Astros

What Do the Astros Have In Straw, Perez, and Stubbs?

When any trade discussion involving the Astros striking a deal for a prominent big leaguer, the attention on which prospects Jeff Luhnow is willing to part with. This list includes names like Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez, and Josh James, the consensus top four prospects in the Astros system.

However, often, it is the other prospects included in a trade that ended up being the more impactful players. We can look at two recent trades that the Astros have made for evidence of this.

Exhibit A: In 2014 the Astros traded Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez for Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick, and a lottery ticket named Frances Martes. Although Cosart and Moran were the primary pieces moved, the secondary pieces turned out to be the more impactful players. While Cosart has flamed out as a big leaguer and Moran just recently got his shot, Hernandez and Marisnick have become integral and established players in the bigs while Martes catapulted himself to being the top prospect in the Astros system at one point.

Exhibit B: As the upstart Astros made a push for the postseason in 2015, Luhnow traded for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser. Gomez and Santana were the primary pieces moved, but Fiers turned out to be the most important person in the deal for the Astros, but, in hindsight, Hader has turned out to be the gem for the Brewers, becoming perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2018.

As the 2018-2019 offseason heats up, and with the Astros rumor mill in full swing with Luhnow apparently showing reluctance to move his top four prospects, what prospects could Luhnow be offering as return pieces in trades? Let’s take a closer look at three current Astros prospects that have been mentioned frequently in recent weeks: Myles Straw, Cionel Perez, and Garrett Stubbs.

Myles Straw

Position: CF

Age: 24

MLB Upside: Starting CF

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB

Myles Straw enters 2019 in much the same way he did in 2017 and 2018, as one of my favorite Astros prospects. In 2018, as Straw made his way up to Triple-A, Astros fans began to take notice. Splitting time evenly between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno, Straw posted a combined .291/.381/.353 slash line with 70 stolen bases (35 at each level) in 79 attempts. As I’ve stated here before, Straw’s offensive value lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role.

Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover much ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. With the signing of Michael Brantley, the Astros have a logjam of outfielders on the 40-man roster unless the Astros trade Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick or Kyle Tucker. The likelihood of Straw remaining with the Astros long term would seem unlikely. Straw could have great appeal for rebuilding teams, and Luhnow could be looking to maximize his value soon.

Cionel Perez

Position: SP/RP

Age: 22

MLB Upside: 3rd Starter/Late-inning RP

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB

The Astros feel very good about Perez’s future with the organization. I, however, am still unsure as to what to make of Perez. The positives are not hard to see. Perez is a soon to be a 23-year-old lefty with a plus fastball, a potentially plus changeup, and an above-average slider. His curveball is average, but he can throw it for strikes as a “show-me” pitch. Perez has a high-floor, as his repertoire would certainly play well in the bullpen if he fails to stick as a starter. Now, the negatives. Perez is undersized at 5’11” and 170 pounds and doesn’t have much deception in his delivery.

Perez was hit pretty hard and showed a lack of command in his brief stint with the Astros last year as advanced hitters were able to lay off his secondary pitches and sit on his fastball. The Astros organization appears to believe Perez can stick as a starter and will likely assign him to Triple-A Round Rock to refine his repertoire. A team that believes he can stick as a starter will likely bet on his upside. That said, as of this writing, and with question marks beyond Verlander, Cole, and McHugh, Perez may be valued even more so by Luhnow than he would have if McCullers not been lost for the 2019 season.

Garrett Stubbs

Position: C

Age: 25

MLB Upside: League average starter

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A

Stubbs rebounded from a dismal 2017 to post improvement across the board in 2018. In 340 at-bats, all in Triple-A, Stubbs slashed .310/.382/.455, with 19 doubles, six triples, and four home runs. In his minor league career, Stubbs has 35 stolen bases in 38 attempts. His line drive approach doesn’t project to add much in the form of power, but his ability to routinely barrel up balls should carry over to the next level. Defensively, Stubbs makes up for his small stature with elite athleticism for the position. He has thrown out 37% of base stealers and owns a career .995 fielding percentage.

Currently, the Astros plan on going into 2019 with Max Stassi and Robinson Chirinos. The last two “Astros catchers of the future,” Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers, have been dealt, leaving Stubbs as the lone MLB ready(ish) catcher in the system. Should the forever talked about a trade for JT Realmuto occur, Stubbs seems like a shoo-in to be dealt. Other than that, it would appear that Stubbs is very likely to make his big league debut in 2019 with the Astros, an idea I feel confident in saying the organization can live with.

Source: baseball-reference.com

Astros Back Into the J.T. Realmuto Picture After Signing Brantley?

If you are an Astros fan, you should be beaming with joy after Jeff Luhnow signed outfielder Michael Brantley. This was a move that Luhnow and the Astros were practicing patience. After the Andrew McCutchen deal, it set the market to sign an outfielder like Brantley. Instead of jumping the gun, Luhnow waited patiently for Brantley to settle for two-years.

Now Kyle Tucker loses his starting gig in left field for now unless the Astros plan on trading Josh Reddick. After signing a $52 million 4-year deal with the Astros back in 2017, he is still owed $26 million for the next two years. His offense took a step back in 2018, but he is still the starting right fielder. The team could look to trade him.

Brantley can play some first base, but he will only get spot starts over there. This leaves no place for Tucker to play for the next two seasons when all the current starters will become free agents. Where does Tucker play? He could become the 4th or 5th outfielder, but where does Tony Kemp or Jake Marisnick fit? Plus, do you want your young star coming off the bench his first full season?

Change of heart?

After saying for a while that they would not trade Kyle Tucker, could they have changed their mind? While they have all the faith in the world in Tucker, saying he could still compete for an outfield spot in 2019 if they signed a veteran player. Technically, he could beat out Reddick for the starting gig, but that would be a lot to pay for a fourth outfielder. However, you want to put your best bats out there.

The depth in the outfield is now massive. Technically, someone can split time with Tyler White in the DH spot. That would change if they did sign Nelson Cruz as well. They still have a hole in the rotation and possibly like to add a starting catcher to the mix. Someone who makes sense is Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto. He had made sense for a few years now, but there has been a sticking point.

The sticking point has been the Marlins desire to get Tucker. As I said on Talking Stros, Realmuto would be an Astro if they would have given up Tucker. Bringing in a hometown-ish type player who could be a superstar would reinvigorate baseball in Miami. Should the Astros sign another bat soon, such as Cruz or the long shot of Bryce Harper, then Tucker becomes available.

It does not make sense to trade seven years of Tucker for two years of Realmuto, but he is a special player. He is an excellent catcher ho can hit for power and average. The Astros could also ask for the 72-hour negotiation window to work out an extension.

Extending Realmuto would offset the loss of Tucker.

It would take more than just Tucker to get the deal done, but not any other top 10 prospects. The Marlins have been asking for the sky. Luhnow has been patient so far, but soon we may see how much he wants to add Realmuto. Joe Frisaro just reported that the Astros were still in on Realmuto. Craig Mish gives them a 5% chance of trading for Realmuto.

The main reason to not trade Tucker is that all of the starting outfielders would be free agents after 2020. Maybe they can work around trading Tucker. Maybe a deal doesn’t get done at all, and the Astros use Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi. By signing Chirinos, the Marlins can't hold the desperation card over the Astros head.

Bregman seemed excited about some big news coming soon. Could it be a Realmuto trade? Could it be them signing Bryce Harper? Maybe they are finally going to get a new starting pitcher. Maybe Bregman wasn’t talking about a new player at all. There are still a few moves out there to be made.

Astros: The Post Winter Meeting Christmas Shopping List

The Winter Meetings are over, and the Astros have yet to address their major needs. Let’s take a look at the key items on the Christmas shopping list for Jeff Luhnow. For each position of need we will show the best options for Free Agents and Trades.

In each category this analysis will focus on value. What can the Astros expect in value (overly simplistically represented by projected WAR) for the average annual value of either the player’s current contract or the average of what several sources project the free agent contract to be?

Priority 1: Catcher

Yes, the Astros signed Robinson Chirinos. No, Chirinos is not likely the starting catcher for the 2019 World Series Champion. A battery of Chirinos and Stassi would likely yield the 18th-best performance from catchers in the MLB. The Astros can and will do better.

For Christmas this year Jeff Luhnow will open his first gift box for Astros fans by signing a catcher.

xmas table 1.png

Looking at this comparison, you may conclude that the Astros should trade for Realmuto instead of signing Ramos. While that would be the better value, it would come at a significant cost trade-wise. If the Marlins were willing to make this deal, then Realmuto would be the potential answer.

xmas table 2 Realmuto.png

For this trade proposal and all future trades below, I will quote Steamer600 Projected WARs. This will show the value each player could have in 2019 IF they were allowed to have a full time job.

If the Marlins made this trade; Stassi (C), Davis (1B/3B), Fisher (OF), and Perez (RP) could easily start and be an upgrade for the Marlins. Martin would likely be starting games for the Marlins by the end of the year. Is that enough? I doubt it.

Reports are active that Ramos has signed with the Mets. I think the Astros will aggressively go after the switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal. With the heavy RHB lineup, a switch-hitting Grandal who splits more as an LHB would make perfect sense for the Astros. Let’s hope Grandal is in the catching gift box.

Priority 2: Starting Pitching

The Astros may want two starting pitchers to add to the rotation of Verlander, Cole, James and McHugh. If they do add two starting pitchers, then they will have options of sending McHugh or James to the bullpen. They’ll also have a much better buffer so that their pitching won’t be overly dependent on rookies and prospects.

The Free Agent Options

xmas table 3 Corbin.png

Given the options that are left on the free agent market, I think the Astros will go for the bigger starting pitcher impact in the trade market. I think they will sign a Morton-like low-risk high-reward possibility in Trevor Cahill, preferably for just one year.

So what are the trade options?

xmas table 4 Ray.png

First, here’s the package I would offer:

For Fulmer: Bukauskas/White/Devenski/Marisnick
For everyone else: Bukauskas/Armenteros/White/Devenski/Marisnick

Let’s go through the list, from the least likely to most likely:

Indians Pitchers (Bauer and Kluber): the Indians have pulled back their offering of these two, at least for now.

Noah Syndergaard: I believe the package I would offer would be insufficient for the Mets.

Robbie Ray: This is my preferred target, but the Diamondbacks are claiming he is not available.

Marcus Stroman: Toronto seems to be in a sell mode. Stroman’s 5.54 ERA was bad. His 3.91 FIP was better than Ray’s. Here is what the deal would look like. Would Toronto take it?

xmas table 5 Stroman.png

Michael Fulmer: As shown above, I would not offer same package for Fulmer, as I have less confidence in him. If the Tigers take the package without Armenteros, I might go for that.

What do I think will happen? Toronto seems to be in the biggest sale and shed salary mode. In that package, I am asking for Justin Smoak as well, to possibly upgrade first base (more on that later.) This also allows the Blue Jays to shed more salary.

For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his second gift box for starting pitching for Astros fans by trading for Marcus Stroman (#3 starter) and by signing Trevor Cahill (#5 starter or for depth).

Priority 3: First Base/Outfield/DH

For the third gift box, the Astros could improve their first base (White 1.3 WAR, Gurriel 0.9), Corner OF (Reddick 1.9, Tucker 1.9, Kemp 1), and/or DH (the same players).

Below is a short list of options to improve these areas. Some of the options at first base also assume that White is in a trade for either Realmuto or a starting pitcher. How much the Astros can spend in this area is most likely dependent on deals made in the areas examined above. If the Astros are able to add Reddick to the deals for example, OF becomes an even great need to address and there is more payroll flexibility.

xmas table 6 Belt.png

The Trade Options

Brandon Belt would be relatively expensive but would be a significant upgrade at first base. Any deal for Belt would probably require Reddick or Gurriel to go to the Giants. I would not overpay.

Justin Smoak would ideally be in the Stroman deal above. He is also a switch hitter who splits more as an LHB. Smoak would be an upgrade over White or Gurriel and could also DH.

Just say no to Edwin Encarnacion from a value perspective. Unless Seattle is willing to pay half of his salary or more, I am not interested.

Free Agent Options

Mike Moustakas: You might point out that Moustakas is a third baseman. Yes, he is, and he also has dabbled at first. From a perspective of pure value (Projected Cost/ Projected WAR), he is a great option. Moustakas is also an LHB.

Nelson Cruz: Several media reports have the Astros showing interest in Cruz. Given that he is a DH option only, and that he will want more than a one-year deal, I am not really interested.

I’ve saved the best option for last: Michael Brantley has expressed a willingness to play both OF and 1B. This flexibility would allow Brantley to start in LF until the Astros have 100% confidence in Tucker. Brantley could start at 1B over White and Gurriel. The down side with Brantley is durability (games played in 2018: 143, 2017: 90, 2016: 11). However, if Tucker, Kemp, Straw, White, Davis, Reed, and/or Gurriel are available as depth when Brantley is hurt, then the only real question is whether Brantley can be healthy in October.

For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his third gift box for Astros fans, and upgrade the outfield and first base, by signing Michael Brantley. He will also get Justin Smoak in the previously mentioned Stroman deal.

This is the Christmas List:

  1. Sign Yasmani Grandal
  2. Trade for Marcus Stroman and Justin Smoak
  3. Sign Michael Brantley
  4. Sign Trevor Cahill

So, Astros fans, have you been naughty or nice this year?

Astros Sign Michael Brantley

The Houston Astros have added some outfield depth by signing outfielder Michael Brantley. According to Ken Rosenthal, the deal for Brantley is reportedly in the range of a two-year, $32 million deal. Other reports suggest there is a possible third-year option tied to this deal.

In the 2018 season, Brantley hit for an average of .309, with 17 homers, 76 runs batted in, 12 steals and only 60 strikeouts in the 143 games played this past season. Brantley joins a crowded outfield with George Springer, prospect Kyle Tucker, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp. This addition will also help bring what is only the third left handed bat to the lineup. The other two: Reddick and Kemp.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers has put it best on Twitter, in my opinion, about what Brantley brings to the table as far as options go for his versatility in the lineup.

Under this theory, manager A.J. Hinch now has a way to figure out the lineup to start the regular season. With this move, the Astros have some options in the outfield. With Springer and Brantley as the two most likely guaranteed starters in the outfield every day, this acquisition now allows for a competition for the final starting spot and most likely two back up outfield positions.

With Marisnick, Kemp and Reddick, this will set up what looks to be an interesting battle during the upcoming spring training to see who will get center field position to start the 2019 regular season. Most likely, we won’t see Tucker join the Astros’ opening day roster. But we might see him show up to the major leagues sometime in July.

Recent rumors have suggested that the Astros are open to shopping Reddick around on the trade block. This could accelerate the possibility of Reddick being shipped elsewhere by the next trade deadline. The Astros, while not as strong as before, are still “in contention” for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. If the Astros are serious about shopping Reddick and want to have a shot at Realmuto, we might end up seeing Reddick included in a package to Miami for an opportunity to grab their catcher. However, it has been said by Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and Hinch that they are content with the two catchers they already have on the roster. Pulling off this move might create a vacancy for a backup outfield position; Tucker could then fight during spring training for a spot on the opening day roster.

More Astros news may be coming soon, as they are still interested in the services of DH Nelson Cruz, in addition to potentially shopping Reddick. Stay tuned to my twitter page @JordanSmithPXP for more information on the news about Cruz and his destination this offseason.

All stats courtesy of Major League Baseball

Astros: Could They Add Two Bats This Holiday Season?

While Houston Astros fans are pouting about not making any moves during the Winter Meetings, Jeff Luhnow is seeking upgrades.

We know that the Astros are looking at adding a bat and starting pitcher. Fans are dreaming of adding Bryce Harper and Corey Kluber, but maybe they need to aim a little lower. Whom will the Astros add? That probably changes day to day with discussions between the two parties trying to get the best deal.

We have discussed two names often on Talking Stros this offseason. There have been rumors that the Astros have had interest in them at various points of the offseason. Today, Ken Rosenthal wrote that the Astros were interested in signing not one bat, but possibly two of them for 2019 and beyond.

A Designated Hitter.

One is a natural fit in the Carlos Beltran like role in the 38-year-old Nelson Cruz. While his production has dropped a little, he still is an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. He batted .256 with 37 homers and 97 RBI in his 11th season via Baseball-Reference. People will mostly remember him from playing with the Rangers and the Mariners. He would fill the DH spot in the order and would add some pop to the roster.

With him being 38, it’s hard seeing the Astros go longer than one year. What if 2019 is the year that Cruz slows down? The team would be on the hook for 2020 for a player not worthy of the deal. Could the Astros entice him with a one-year deal with a vesting option should he reach “x” at-bats or other achievements? Cruz is probably holding out for that second year. Otherwise, he would have signed by now.

An outfielder.

The second player is Michael Brantley, who would be an impact lefty in the batting order. He is coming off one of his best seasons where he batted .309 with 17 homers and 76 RBI via Baseball-Reference. He added 12 stolen bases and played more than 90 games for the first time in the last three years. In 143 games last year, he showed that he was healthy again and primed for a big-time contrast.

Unfortunately, the injury history would raise some red flags, giving teams pause on investing too much time or money into signing him. The Astros would probably like to sign him for two years, but he could want 3-4 years. Brantley is 31-years-old so he could be looking at his final opportunity for a long-term deal. If this is a possibility, the Astros will have to capitalize on the fact that Brantley could play first base.

Rosenthal mentioned this as a way to allow Yuli Gurriel to move around the diamond. They also have high hopes for Kyle Tucker, so this would open some playing time. Rosenthal also mentioned that they could be looking to trade Josh Reddick. Cruz would add power to the lineup and Brantley would add an all-around bat. This would lengthen the lineup to increase offensive production.

Whether this happens or not, rest assured that they are doing what they can. Trading Reddick may be a mistake, but they may not have playing time to pass around. If these two are signed, Marwin Gonzalez will go from 5% chance of returning down to 0%. Adding another starting pitcher would top their to do list, but they also need to look at adding another catcher.

What do you think?

Astros Day 2-4 recaps of the Winter Meetings

Day 2

With the Houston Astros not even being in town on Day 1, we will jump ahead to Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. The Houston Astros executives flew into Las Vegas on Monday with the hopes of filling in the gaps from the 2018 season.

With the Astros looking for a starting pitcher, a DH/1B and even a relief pitcher or two and an outfielder, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work cut out for him this year in Vegas.

No deals were made, no signings, no trades: some more talk about Astros being in contention for certain players like JA Happ and JT Realmuto, but nothing was done.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

Day 3

Besides the continuation of hearing that Realmuto is on the verge of being traded in a supposed three-team trade with the Marlins, Yankees, and Mets, nothing was happening as much for the Astros and the names that they are involved. Dallas Keuchel has continued to be mentioned as “top of the list” guy for multiple teams, as well as Marwin Gonzales. Other than that, nothing new came from Charlie Morton, except now other teams are interested in his services.

J.A. Happ continued to be mentioned as a possible candidate for the Astros and other teams as well. The 36-year old was looking for a 3-year deal that could send him into retirement after the end of the contract.

Andrew McCutchen, while not a top target for the Astros still someone that could be considered if the need fit, signed with the Phillies for a 3-year, $50M deal. Now, besides Bryce Harper, the outfield list is starting to wind down a little bit possibly. Rumors that the Dodgers are shopping Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp emerged late Tuesday night, but nothing has happened since.

Another name that has escaped the hands of the Astros is Nelson Cruz, who was in talks with the ballclub and even was one of the top considerations, has now moved on to make his decision between either the Twins or the Rays. So, that’s another player that the ‘Stros have failed to close a deal on.

Kluber and Bauer are still with the Indians and have not been moved yet. At this point, a move will most likely not occur during the winter meetings for either one of those players most likely. The only thing the Astros announced today was Jim Crane saying that if the circumstance is correct, they will increase the payroll.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

Day 4

Waking up on Day 4 of the Winter Meetings in Vegas, the rumors now speculate that the Mets are now backing away from JT Realmuto and looking for a more defensive catcher possibly (that rumor coming from Jon Heyman).

The Dodgers have been a name connected to him, but according to Jon Heyman, the deal could have been done already between LA and the Marlins. However, the Dodgers are not willing to get rid of Cody Bellinger in the deal, which has stalled talks in trade for Realmuto, reopening the door for the Astros to swoop in if they want to. However, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has stated that he is good with the group of catchers they have right now in Chirinos and Stassi.

Reports about J.A. Happ re-signing with the Yankees has been reversed as it looked like no agreement had officially been put in place when Ken Rosenthal first reported it.

Madison Bumgarner is still on the market by the San Francisco Giants. No move has been made yet for him, though the Astros at this point are still a team that are interested in his services with the potential loss of Dallas Keuchel.

Today was the day that pitcher Charlie Morton decided to leave the city of Houston and sign with the Tampa Bay Rays for a 2-year, $30M contract. With that, the Astros look at their starting rotation now with a gaping hole that is left, which now most likely has to be filled with a re-signed Dallas Keuchel, if they can pull it off.

Result: Big subtraction in Charlie Morton, No additions

Day 5

Heading into the final day of the Winter Meetings, the Houston Astros and their fans were still in a somber mood with the departure of Morton to the Rays. Besides that, no signings or trades occurred for the Astros as they quietly ended the Winter Meetings with no additions and one big subtraction in Morton the day before.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

An overall recap of the Winter Meetings for the Astros:

Despite previous years where the Astros were somewhat active to fairly active during the Winter Meetings, not much- if any- action was taken by the Astros these past five days. With that being said, the blue and orange are still looking to add an arm and a big bat from now until the start of spring training in February. Marwin Gonzales and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned, while Charlie Morton heads for Tampa Bay. It’s been somewhat of a ho-hum December so far for Houston. However, signing Chirinos before the meetings at least helps with the catcher situation. Although, don’t be surprised if the ‘Stros go and sign another catcher.

Overall grade: D

Will Kyle Tucker get his opportunity with the Astros?

Will Kyle Tucker get his opportunity with the Astros?

If you’ve followed the Houston Astros for the past two or three years, you’re probably aware of who the elite prospects in the system are. You probably know about how prospects tend to project, how fast they tend to excel through the system, even if every player excels at different speeds, and how lenient the organization tends to be, especially with top tier, blue chip, players. They give opportunity after opportunity for players to succeed, because frankly, graduating from the Triple-A level to the Major leagues isn’t easy, and a lot of players need time to adjust.

Examples

A.J. Reed, Derek Fisher, Francis Martes, J.D. Davis, Colin Moran. These are all names in the past few years that have been given a chance after chance to adjust the Majors. There are plenty of others, but these players, in particular, have had three or four shots at improving their stock and showing they’re capable of playing at the highest level, but haven’t yet reached their potential, and quite frankly might be running out of opportunities.

Colin Moran was traded last offseason for Gerrit Cole, along with other players, but even before the transaction, he had been given multiple shots to prove his worth. The Astros are great at evaluating talent and knowing what they have. Now, not everything will pan out. As it's been said many times, “baseball is hard.” It’s a tough sport. It may be the toughest sport, and things don’t always work out for players trying to break in, but the Astros don’t give up easily.

So, should we give up on Tucker?

Repetition is key when writing about Tucker, personally, and It can’t be said enough. Tucker has not spent enough time at the Major League level for everyone to completely give up on him. A first-round draft pick out of H.B. Plant high school, Tucker has excelled at every level he has played at. In rookie league Greeneville he hit .286. At Quad Cities, he hit .276. At Lancaster, he hit .339. At Buies Creek, he hit .288.

At Corpus Christi, he hit .265, and in his last stop at Fresno, he hit .332. In four total minor league seasons, he had 433 hits, 61 home runs, 285 RBI’s, 97 doubles, 17 triples, an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .849. Folks that may be the minor leagues, but as it was stated earlier, “Baseball is hard.” It’s hard to put up these numbers at any level, and Tucker has. The past two seasons he’s won the organization’s player of the year award, and it wasn’t because he’s an average player. He’s earned the nickname, “Ted,” for a reason.

Why shouldn’t we give up on him?

There’re a few reasons why Kyle Tucker is here to stay. Now it’s unfair to write this and not talk about his struggles. To not acknowledge them would be silly. He had a bad time his first go round. He didn’t hit. He played the outfield lackadaisically. He didn’t seem like he was ready for the big dance, and hey, many guys aren’t. However, it’s also unfair, knowing what we know about how the Astros handle prospects, to pretend that his entire minor league tenure is just complete rubbish.

Yes, the Major Leagues are different. Yes, there’s an adjustment that most players need to make. Many adjustments, if one can say that. Tucker played twenty-eight games for Houston. Sixty-four at-bats. Sixty-four. How can anyone look at his history, look at the Astros and how successful they’ve been molding prospects, look at seventy-two plate appearances, and think that Tucker is done, and the Astros are done with him as well. It doesn’t make sense. There’s a reason why they weren’t even discussing his name until recently in trade talks. Granted, he has been mentioned in a few lately, but it’s been for elite players. J.T. Realmuto, Noah Syndergaard, etc.

He won’t get dealt

Even in the talks with Miami, and New York, the price is still too high. If the Astros wanted to trade Tucker, they would’ve done it by now. If there were any doubt about how he plays or how he’s going to turn out, they would’ve shipped him off to another team. He’s still valued. Tucker is still number five on the top 100 prospects list for all of baseball.

Twenty-eight games aren’t enough to accurately judge how a player’s career is going to turn out, and the Astros know that. We’re all outsiders looking in, trying to make our best judgment on if he should stay or not, but there’s a reason Tucker is going to be playing in 2019 for the Astros, and it’s not because a deal couldn’t be found for him, because there are plenty of teams who’d want him. The Astros believe in Kyle Tucker, and so should we.

**All Stats Courtesy of baseball-reference.com and MLB.Com*

Charlie Morton heading to Tampa Bay

The Houston Astros have lost a key member of the 2017 World Series roster and last year’s historic regular season roster in starting pitcher Charlie Morton.

According to Yahoo Sports MLB columnist Jeff Passan, Morton’s deal with the Rays is a 2-year, $30 million deal. This leaves the Astros with a vacancy in their starting rotation. That’s a fair deal, makes you wonder why the Astros didn’t offer the second year. It was earlier reported that they offered him a one year deal.

In the 2018 season, Morton had a 15-3 record with an ERA of 3.13 according to Baseball-Reference. Morton helped the Astros have the best ERA from their starting rotation in the entire American League. Morton would start all 30 games he appeared in during the season and strike out 201 batters in 167.0 innings of play. Morton would also finish the year with a WHIP of 1.162.

For the Houston Astros, this move now puts them in an interesting predicament for their starting rotation. With three guaranteed pitchers in their rotation still under contract in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Colin McHugh (who will move from his role in the bullpen back to the starting rotation), Astros GM Jeff Luhnow would like to add another arm for the rotation in this Winter Meetings.

It was the original thought that Morton was either going to retire or come back to play baseball, but had said he would only come back to the Astros if he was to play again. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported back on October 19 Morton’s sentiment about wanting to be a part of the Astros again.

“I’d love to keep playing,” Morton said after last night’s game. “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again. Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.”

This move now puts pressure on Luhnow to most likely must re-sign starting pitcher and Cy-Young winner Dallas Keuchel in order to have at least four guaranteed arms in the rotation heading into spring training in February.

For Morton, this move to the Rays would mean that Morton had to feel like he wouldn’t help the Astros get better this season. In talking with fans and other baseball followers, their sentiment about Morton’s decision is the same. If he didn’t feel like he could make the 2019 Astros better with him on the team, he didn’t want to have the ballclub spend money to bring him back. Despite this feeling, fans from around the franchise will miss him and what he has done for the Astros this past couple of seasons.

Stay tuned to my Twitter page @JordanSmithPXP for more info about the Astros Winter Meetings transactions over the next few days, as well as any other news going on with the Houston Astros during the Winter Meetings.

*Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

Astros Conspiracy Theory: The J.T. Realmuto Smokescreen by the Marlins

If you believe what you see on the internet, J.T. Realmuto is soon to become a Met. There are rumors that the Mets, Marlins, and Yankees are talking a three-way deal. Typically when there is many rumors, there is some truth to the rumors. However, if Noah Syndergaard is indeed involved in that deal, it could get tricky and can easily fall apart. Meanwhile, according to Jon Heyman, the Mets met with Wilson Ramos today. They could be weighing the options of trade versus signing Ramos. However, no deal has been made yet.

What if this Mets talk was really just a smokescreen or part of the negotiation process? It is no secret that the Astros are seeking an upgrade at the catching position. Yes, they signed Robinson Chirinos, but he is a 34-year-old career backup catcher who was the starter last year with the Rangers. A combination with Max Stassi is not ideal, but they are prepared to roll with the duo if they don’t find the right replacement.

The Astros will be patient and try to get the best deal, which is why they haven’t traded for Realmuto yet. With the need, the two teams are a match for a deal with the Astros deep farm system. That is the problem; the Marlins knew that the Astros were desperate and were asking for a Mike Trout like-trade package. The Astros maybe hoped that adding Chirinos would take away the image that they must make a trade. Instead, they would like to make the deal.

At the same time, it allows Jeff Luhnow to be patient in trade discussions as well knowing he has something behind the plate. The Astros likely signed Chirinos to replace Stassi, and hopefully bring in another catcher to be the starter. The Marlins probably want Kyle Tucker, a Florida boy whom they could control for seven years. Maybe they leaked some of the Mets trade talk to get the Astros worried and make a panic move. Tucker is most likely the sticking point here.

Like we saw last year, Luhnow is very patient, as he waited out the Pirates in a trade for Gerritt Gole. Once one of the top three catching targets are trade/signed, the rest will follow shortly. Things may happen slowly considering Realmuto because the Marlins don’t feel like they have to trade him and he is their final big trade piece. We will see what happens over the next couple days, weeks, or months. We know Luhnow can wait out any team, will Realmuto last?

What if the Astros were serious about signing Bryce Harper?

The fallout if the Astros were to sign Bryce Harper.

Let’s say that Jeff Luhnow was tailgating before the Texans vs. Colts game and walked up to you. You would probably say, “hey, you did a great job building that 2017 World Series team. It was unfortunate that ya’ll fell short last year. What are you doing to help the Astros win again in 2019?” Luhnow would then say, “what if I told you we were about to sign Bryce Harper?”

Let’s take a step back from that made up situation. Most people would probably laugh it off. There is no way that the Astros make that move, right? The Astros turned down Will Harris’ team option to save some money, so why would they go out and try to sign a player for ten years and $300 million? It would be a change of thinking for the Astros, but we have already seen that by signing Robinson Chirinos. After prioritizing defense with catchers, Chirinos is better on offense than defense.

From what I understand, the Astros are very serious about signing Harper. It has been written by Jeff Passan that “Harper’s affection for the Houston Astros is well-known.” Who wouldn’t want to come to Houston where they are already early favorites to return to the World Series in 2019. Harper probably watched the 2017 World Series and saw the excitement that the Astros had. Plus, there is an opening in the outfield where he would not have to play first base.

You can see why he would enjoy coming to Houston. However, why would the Astros want to sign a player for that long and that much? Many people have written articles about whether the Astros should sign him. But not too many people have written what would happen if they did sign Harper. The Astros have been labeled a dark horse to sign Harper by David Schoenfield of ESPN. Without going as far as saying that they will, let's look at the fallout if they did.

The Cost

According to Brian McTaggart, the projected salary, including predictions for arbitration-eligible players, is currently about $132 million for 2019. This is much much lower than the $170 million they finished with last year. If Jim Crane and the ownership group is willing to take on the extra-salary, why don’t you throw crazy money at one of the best players in the game? If the cost to sign Harper is close to 10-years and $300 million, the Astros could decide to take the leap of faith. Disclaimer, it could take a lot more to sign him.

Other teams like the Phillies and Dodgers will have more money to spend on Harper. Unlike Pennsylvania and California, Texas does not have a state income tax. The cost of living is probably less in Texas as well, so his money will go further should he sign with Houston. Similar to what we have seen with Clayton Kershaw, the Astros could give Harper an opt-out clause after five years or so.

The Albert Pujols deal is still fresh in our mind, so would Harper be a better get for a 10-year deal? The most significant difference is that Pujols was 32 at the time, Harper is 26-years-old. The Angels knew that they were overpaying for Pujols after he turned 40, but they figured he would be worth it during the early stages of his contract. Yes, Harper’s batting average dropped in 2018, but he still hit 33 homers and drove in 100 runs. He is an elite talent and will earn a massive deal from someone.

Future Ramifications

As with most premium free agents, Harper was offered a qualifying offer. The Astros would lose a pick to the Nationals should they sign him. However, they would have Harper for ten years, so it would be worth losing that one pick. This could take them out of contention for big-time free agents like Paul Goldschmidt, should he reach free agency in 2020. This could also limit them financially to fill in needed holes on the roster or extending Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander.

Here is the big elephant in the room of a possible Harper deal, they would be unable to retain one of their current stars. If the Astros sign Harper, this would mean that George Springer would not likely be re-signed after the 2020 season. Put aside the fanboy view of Springer. It makes more sense to sign the 26-year-old Harper to a ten year deal versus a 31-year-old Springer.

Harper’s upside is higher than Springer. The Astros have tried to sign Springer to a long-term deal, but he hasn’t been too impressed. They did get him to agree to a two year, $24 million deal to avoid arbitration, but not one yet to extend him. If the Astros did sign Harper, imagine having Harper plus the core four together in the lineup for two years. That lineup would dominate any pitching staff.

The Astros are serious about trying to sign Harper. Not only is he a good player, but he has name value. His jerseys would fly off the shelves in Houston. The Nationals have said that they are not likely to retain Harper, the Astros could surprise us all. Will it happen? There is always a chance. The only thing that could keep him out of Houston is his price tag. They will only pay so much.

A look behind the Astros signing of Robinson Chirinos

When on vacation on a cruise ship where your phone decides to go in into update mode without WiFi can make you a little disconnected. This happened as we were at dinner one night and my wife said, “who is Robinson Chirinos and why do the Astros want him?” With the dreams of trading for JT Realmuto or signing Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal, that news was shocking. Luckily, she was following Brian McTaggart before we reached the dead zone known as the Gulf of Mexico.

As many Astros fans would say, that was a total Stros move. Instead of spending the big money or prospects to get one of the big names, they sign someone who was just bought out by the Rangers. The last place Rangers didn’t want him, why did the Astros?

Let’s take a step back from being an Astros fanboy and look at the Rangers situation. The move makes sense. They are going into a rebuilding mold similar to the Mariners. Why would they want to pay $4 plus million for a 34-year-old catcher? The Rangers are looking to save money and get younger. Chirinos is not what you would call a starting catcher. Last year was the first time that he surpassed 100 games played. They were looking to save a buck or two.

A look at the Astros side.

On the Astros side, they were desperate for a catcher with Brian McCann returning to the Braves and Martin Maldonado still a free agent. With Chirinos, you know what you will get, an average defender with some pop. He did play in a career-high 113 games, but his counting stats took a nosedive despite career highs in home runs and RBI. Chirinos almost doubled his strikeouts from 2017, but that tends to happen when you play more.

Behind the plate, you wonder what the Astros were thinking. He threw out 10% of the batters trying to steal a base off him. To put it another way, players trying to steal a base got an A. He is not known as an elite defender, but he was a move to build some type of depth at the catching position.

What this signing, Chirinos joins Stassi as the only catchers with MLB service time on the roster. He is offensively an upgrade over Chris Herrmann, but not defensively. Defensively, Stassi would get the nod over Chirinos, as he is one of the great pitch framers in baseball. Stassi has shown offensive potential in the past but has been streaky at the plate. If no more moves are made, they would likely split time. Look for Stassi to get the larger amount, but the Astros did spend $5.75 million on Chirinos.

There is always a chance that they go out and get another catcher? They have carried three catchers before. If they added another catcher, Stassi is out of options so they would have to without risking losing him. Fans may be waiting for the big move. You may see a big move soon. Will it be for a star catcher? Maybe another bat? We will see what happens at the Winter Meetings.

This move gives the Astros another catching option in case they can’t find another. The core of the team is still here, no need to panic.

***Stats via Baseball-Reference***

A Look at the Reasons Why the Astros Are Not Trading Whitley

How valuable is Forrest Whitley?

The Houston Astros over the past two seasons have made some pretty big moves to bolster the team. It’s always nice to root for a team that’s not afraid to make a splash, whether that be from signing a free agent or making a push for a blockbuster trade. The Astros have consistently shown they aren’t afraid to make moves to improve.

However, they’ve also made it know they won’t compromise from their central beliefs that a good farm system is necessary to form a winning ballclub continually. Meaning; they’re not going to give up just anyone at any time if they feel they don’t need to, and they’re not going to give up on players whom they feel are going to be superstars at the Major League level.

Kyle Tucker’s stock

One player who has been mentioned time and time again is Kyle Tucker. The lanky outfielder was taken fifth overall in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, made his debut in July of last year, and did not impress. He had nine hits in 72 plate appearances, a batting average of .141, and an on-base percentage of .236. Somewhere, Mario Mendoza is smiling.

Apart from his offensive numbers though, Tucker seemed to lack a sense of urgency when he played the outfield. He seemed out of it at times, and while he will still be a rookie in 2019, his name is now being mentioned in trade rumors, when before he was not. The Marlins have asked about Tucker, and the Astros ears are perking up unlike before.

So what about Forrest Whitley?

Tucker was mentioned because he and Whitley have been grouped together for years as two prospects that the Astros will not trade. However, with the price for Tucker dropping, and Whitley only getting better (36 K’s in 26 innings in the Arizona fall league). Whitley is more valuable than he ever has been, even after being suspended 50 games this season for violating Minor League Baseball’s drug policy. Most recently he was asked about by the Seattle Mariners in discussions for their former ace James Paxton.

The Astros answer? Flat out refusal, as reported by Jon Morosi.

James Paxton was then shipped to the New York Yankees for their number one overall prospect, Justus Sheffield. Jeff Luhnow commented and said, "I can't imagine what it's like to be these guys, every day they read rumors out in the media — whether they're true or not — that they may be getting traded for this player or that player," "We've said from the beginning, Whitley's not going anywhere except to Houston at some point in the near future.”

Is Holding onto Forrest Whitley Worth it?

From all accounts, Whitley is a special player. Looking back at his initial draft pick profile, you’ll see Whitley boasts some impressive pitches that have only continued to improve. Standing at six foot seven, his fastball gets on you quick at 92-97 miles per hours with a little cut on it. He throws a nasty curve that he can also turn into a slider, and his changeup makes hitters look foolish. A simple over the top delivery, easily flowing towards home plate, but hiding the ball well, he keeps hitters on their toes all game long.

He’s had 203 strikeouts in roughly two minor league seasons. Not to mention he has the stature and poise of an Ace, and he hasn’t even reached AAA. There’s a reason The Astros are so keen on keeping him. He has the stuff that can dominate for a long time as a number one starter, and that’s rare to come by.

Is 2019 the year?

Only time will tell when Forrest Whitley will make his much-anticipated debut. The way he’s pitched, and shown he can navigate lineups, he could very well start the season in AAA and make his presence known in Houston by late June, early July, and if the offseason doesn’t go the way the Astros hope, they could be looking at two-three spots truly unfilled in the rotation.

Everyone Astros fan is anxiously waiting and watching for this stud to continue to excel, and for him to take his place along with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the rotation. Whitley will only help our chances of winning another World Series Championship, and that is the reason he is untouchable.

**All Stats Courtesy of ThreePitchStrikeout, MiLB.com, Baseball-reference, USA Today, Chron.com.**

Trevor Bauer Keeps Challenging Alex Bregman at Baseball Things

And He Keeps Losing.

Trevor Bauer is so thirsty for Twitter stardom that he has to call out the Honorable Alex Bregman just for clicks. So sad. Earlier this week, Bauer went to Twitter to issue a challenge that he would pay buckets of money for every practice home run hit off him by any MLB’er who accepted his offer. Then directed the subsequent call to Alex Bregman because he is the only true professional baseball player who may be just as lethal on the field as he is online.

For context, last year Bregman got into a DM fight with a fan about fake Chris Sale trades (RIP, @Allenh83), made him delete his account from sheer embarrassment, and then went on to be a hero in the World Series, so yeah, Bregman is pretty good at making dudes eat their words online. So here’s the following exchange after Bauer’s “challenge”:

This is the part where Bauer calls him soft, and than Bregman, so kindly provides a link to a YouTube video of him clobbering something “soft” off Bauer for a solo shot in the ALDS this past year. A real-life homer that juuuuuust landed as a matter of fact.

Man, you hate to see this kind of savagery in the offseason, but here we are.

The best part about this is I’m not so sure that Bauer doesn’t secretly want to be an Astro. He is a former student of Pitching Coach/Pitching Whisperer/Pitching G.O.A.T Brent Strom and loves talking about spin rates. It’s kind of like when you were a kid in school, and you would nag and make fun of the girls that you secretly liked. That actually makes sense because Bauer still plays around with toy drones and stuff.

Bauer.png

Also, as a side note here is a screenshot of when I called out Bauer for his accusation of the Astros pitching staff cheating/doctoring baseballs earlier this year. He said he never accused them of cheating but come on man, we weren’t born yesterday.

You automatically know that I GOT HEEM by that retort. “Oh crap, this guy actually sees right through my veil of stupidity, quick, DIVERT THE SUBJECT.” Just as an aside, let me go ahead and put it on the record now, I am not God the Almighty. Moreover, I cannot hit a curveball.

Astros: Non-Tendering Herrmann Leads to More Questions

Could the Astros non-tendering Chris Herrmann mean they are close to adding a catcher?

Earlier this evening, there was some breaking news that may not seem like a big deal after claiming catcher Chris Herrmann off waivers earlier this offseason from the Mariners. According to Chandler Rome, the Astros non-tendered Herrmann making him a free agent.

With Brian McCann signing with the Braves and Martin Maldonado still a free agent, this affects the depth of the roster at the catcher spot. This leaves Max Stassi and Garrett Stubbs as the only catchers on the 40-man roster.

Not that Herrmann was the answer as the everyday catcher, he could have been a Triple-A backup option for the Astros. He could have also been an Erik Kratz-like bridge until Stubbs was ready to be the everyday guy. Jeff Luhnow said earlier in the offseason that they would like to have 3-4 guys who can catch the Astros pitchers. With a focus on spin-rate, they need catchers who can block pitches well.

What changed?

On Thursday’s Astroline, Luhnow also mentioned that they expected to tender a contract to all 11 players. Instead, Herrmann is now updating his resume again looking for a job. The timing of this move is intriguing, but there was a deadline to tender the eligible players a contract.

What changed from last night to tonight? Did they need an open roster spot? Maybe they had buyers remorse and were looking to get rid of Herrmann while they could. The 40-man roster now sits at 37. Unless you are a fly in the room, we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

With the need to add depth to the catching position, it is odd that they non-tendered Herrmann. That is unless they are pretty confident that they are about to add another catcher. While everyone would like to trade for JT Realmuto, the Marlins appear unwilling to move him without the Astros big prospects involved. As we discussed on Talking Stros last week, the Marlins don’t have the leverage they think they do. There are a couple of top catching free agents on the market they are competing against.

Other options.

Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos wouldn’t require a trade, just a financial commitment to one of them. Grandal would cost you a second-round pick most likely. Once one of the big names fall off the market, expect the others to follow soon after. Could the Astros be about to bring back Maldonado in a multi-year deal? Maybe they are confident that they can add another catcher before the start of spring training.

Maybe the Astros realized how much Herrmann was set to make in arbitration and decided to move on. He was nothing but a minor league depth option, but the team will look elsewhere. Maybe his release will lead to the big move we are waiting for. Fans will have to wait to see.

What was your favorite Chris Herrmann moment?

Houston Trio Milestone Tracker

On November 14th, LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain to move to fifth place on the all-time NBA scoring list. At his current pace, he will pass Michael Jordan for fourth on the list in January of 2019, and as long as he averages at least 22 points per game over the next three to four years, he will become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. What’s arguably just as significant is that the 6’8” forward is currently 11th all-time in total assists and will likely finish his career third overall behind only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Want to go even further down the rabbit hole of ridiculous accomplishments James will achieve? He’s currently 16th in all-time steals, and as long as he keeps his current average of 1.6 per game, he’ll jump to seventh all-time in three years. This is a repetitive jaw dropper for each statistical category about LeBron James, so I will just quickly sum it up by saying when it’s all over with, the somehow still-improving 16-year veteran will likely finish his career top 75 in blocks, top 50 in rebounds, top five in steals, top three in assists, and number one in all-time points.

That got me to thinking, while his career is fun to see polish out as the greatest statistical career of all time, he chose L.A. over Houston. He’s not a Rocket, and that’s ok. We have a trio of guys in our city that we can look forward to celebrating significant milestones one day. Very few cities out there can say they have the luxury of preeminent players across all three sports all in their prime together at the same time.

Here’s what we can all anticipate over the next decade with our Houston core. Don’t take it for granted.

Jose Altuve: All-Time Hits

Jose Altuve is currently at 1,419 career hits and is 28 years old. If you take out his first year when he was called up in July 2011, he has averaged 194 hits per season. At that rate, he will reach 2,000 hits in the 2021 season. By then he will pass up Bob Watson (1,448), Lance Berkman (1,648), Cesar Cedeno (1,659), and Jose Cruz (1,937) for third all-time in franchise history behind only Jeff Bagwell (2,314) and Craig Biggio (3,060). As long as the 5’6” second baseman stays healthy, he should become a member of the 3,000-hit club in just over eight years and then quickly become the franchise’s all-time hit leader. The Astros have secured the second baseman for the next six years, showing they are committed to keeping him for his whole career, so we will all be able to witness this event in 2026 for the second time in franchise history.

Side Note: If you ever want to hear me vent about something, it’s that I had tickets to the game after Craig Biggio reached 3,000. How dare he get five hits in one game.

James Harden: All-Time Points

On November 21st, James Harden passed Rudy Tomjanovich for third on the Rockets’ all-time scoring list behind just Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon. As a member of the Houston Rockets at age 29, Harden has a total of 13,518 points scored. Since becoming a Rocket, Harden has averaged 27.9 points per game, which equals out to 2,169 total points per season. At this pace, he will pass Murphy’s 17,949 total in the 2020-2021 season. We can all agree that this feat is inevitable.

Hakeem Olajuwon is the sole leader in Rockets’ points scored at 26,511. I’d like to assume with his durability and style of play not completely dependent on athleticism that we will see his prime continue for four more years. By that time, he will be 33 years old and need to average just 22 points per game over the following three seasons to reach The Dream. It’s a long way away, but we should look forward to seeing Harden pass Olajuwon at least by the 2024-2025 season.

The Beard will be eyeing 30,000 total career points quickly after passing Olajuwon. He has a disadvantage, having started his career with three seasons coming off the bench in Oklahoma City. With those three seasons added to his Houston Rockets total, he will have a career total of 29,306 points upon reaching the top of the Rockets mountain. This will leave him with just 694 points to go, or one half of a season. If or when this happens, we might be celebrating two incredible milestones in the same season.

Despite his first three seasons coming off the bench, this is entirely possible; the only thing holding him back is his durability and longevity. Only seven players have accomplished this feat: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, and Dirk Nowitzki. Can you imagine seeing James Harden join that list?

J.J. Watt All-Time Sacks

Upon J.J. Watt’s 2015 season that resulted in his third career Defensive Player of the Year award, there was some hope that he would one day be the NFL’s all-time leader in career sacks. After his first five seasons, the three-time DPOY was 26 years old, had not missed a single game, and had 74.5 sacks. At the rate he was going, he would have reached 200 sacks in just over eight more years. If you take out his rookie season of 5.5 sacks, he was on pace to reach 200 even quicker with his 17.25 sacks per season in a four-year span. The man was on a completely different level than everyone else in the NFL.

Then, unfortunately, Watt was set back nearly two full years with multiple injuries. From back surgery to a tibial plateau fracture topped with numerous other injuries, it was a consensus thought that we had seen the end of J.J. Watt as we knew him and he would be an average player on a superstar contract with the potential of even being released from the team sooner rather than later. But the difference is that number 99 is a super-human and now has 11.5 sacks through 11 games in the 2018 season. It makes no sense how he is able to be back to a top five defensive player in the league, but I choose to just not question it.

On Monday Night Football against the Titans in week 12, Watt cracked the top 50 list in all-time sacks at 87.5. While odds are against the defensive end to continue this success, who are we to even think we know what this guy can or can’t do? He’s going to make it a fun ride to see how far he can get on the list. He’s on pace to finish this season with 16.5 sacks and go into next season with 92.5 in his career. Let’s just enjoy the history of the greatest player to ever wear a Houston Texans uniform and prepare to celebrate each 10 spots he moves up the rankings. Below are expected dates to pass each landmark by using a baseline rate of 15 sacks per season.

40th All-Time: 95.5 Sacks (Robert Porcher)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 1-4 (Age 30)

30th All-Time: 100.5 Sacks (William Fuller)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 9-12 (Age 30)

20th All-Time: 122.0 Sacks (Simeon Rice)

Expected To Pass: 2020 Weeks 13-17 (Age 31)

10th All-Time: 137.5 (Richard Dent & John Randle)

Expected To Pass: 2021 Weeks 13-17 (Age 32)

5th All-Time: 150.5 (Chris Doleman)

Expected to Pass: 2022 Weeks 13-17 (Age 33)

1st All-Time: 200 Sacks (Bruce Smith)

Expected to Pass: 2026 Weeks 1-4 (Age 37)

Bruce Smith can most likely sit comfortable with no worries of being passed and will remain the all-time sacks leader, but Watt will climb far up that list. If only the sports gods wouldn’t have taken away those two years from him…

What Light at the End of the Tunnel?

You know what’s pretty cool? Maybe in a few years we’re talking about Alex Bregman being on the same pace to become the third Astro to reach 3,000 hits. Maybe Deandre Hopkins starts flirting with some all-time receiving records. Deshaun Watson is only 23 years old, what can he accomplish? Let the dominoes fall in Houston, TX.

All stats via baseball-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, and football-reference.com

Astros are looking at Nathan Eovaldi

The hot stove season is starting to heat up with players looking for new teams and contenders like the Astros are looking to get better.

With several players hitting free agency for the Astros, Jeff Luhnow and company are busier than normal. After falling short of the World Series last year, their window for winning just needs some tweaking. One of the positions that need some upgrades are in the starting rotation. Look for a trade to fill this, but a free agent would work as well.

Expect to hear the Astros’ name mentioned with most of the targets out there. One name that has been mentioned a little was part of the reasons why the Astros lost in the ALCS. That is a local product, Nathan Eovaldi, who grew up in the Alvin area. We saw him pitch well versus the Astros as he got the win in Game 3, pitching six innings and allowing two runs. Via Baseball-Reference, he had a 1.61 ERA going back between the bullpen and rotation. He added 16 strikeouts in 22 ⅓ innings.

He is a flamethrower who has been labeled the second best pitcher ever from Alvin. According to Google, it is 30 miles from Alvin to Minute Maid Park. If his family wants to come to watch him pitch, it’s a short drive versus a flight to Boston. He already got his World Series ring, and it will be poetic if he pitches the Astros into the World Series in 2019.

According to Jon Morosi, the Astros are “showing continued interest in free agent Nathan Eovaldi, sources say.” He also added that teams are looking at him as a starter or closer. The Astros are one of nine teams linked up to Eovaldi, so they will have to make a competitive offer. Playing for your hometown team predicted to go to the World Series again in 2019 is enticing. However, he also wants to get the best deal.

Eovaldi is a player that could fill in for Lance McCullers for 2019 and be insurance should they not retain Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander. To get a player like Eovaldi, it may take a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year. Maybe between $15-18 million per year, so it would take a financial risk with his injury history. He has already had two Tommy John surgery.

Bring him on and re-sign Charlie Morton, this will make up for the loss of Dallas Keuchel. This move would make a rotation almost as imposing as last year.

Why Astros Fans Should Know Bryan Abreu

Last week, the Astros surprised some by protecting RHP Bryan Abreu from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster.

So why would the Astros protect Abreu, a 21-year-old late bloomer that hasn’t pitched above Low-A?

Despite signing as an international free agent in November 2013, Abreu didn’t make his stateside debut until 2016, pitching in 10 games in the GCL, mostly out of the bullpen, where he posted a 3.78 ERA while striking out 35 in 33.1 innings. His command was spotty, however, allowing 33 hits and walking 15 to finish with a 1.440 WHIP. Nevertheless, Abreu was promoted to the Appalachian League where he was promptly lit up, allowing eleven baserunners and seven earned runs in just 5.1 innings.

The 2017 season wasn’t much better, as Abreu again finished the year in The Appy, posting a 1-3 record, a 7.98 ERA, and a 1.705 WHIP in 29.1 innings via Baseball-Reference. However, in 2018, the 21-year-old put it all together.

In 14 appearances across two levels—-4 games in the New York-Penn League with Tri-City and ten games in Low-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League—-Abreu dramatically improved across the board, finishing with a combined 1.49 ERA, a 1.031 WHIP, and a staggering 90 strikeouts in just 54.1 innings.

Improved mechanics and the instruction received once he came stateside seem to be the difference. Besides the gaudy statistics, Abreu offers quite a bit to like.

Abreu isn’t imposing at 6’1”/180, but he has good mound presence and makes up for his slight build with tenacity and a very lively arm. Abreu has a three-quarter arm slot, and when he’s in control, his mechanics allow for a repeatable delivery. Abreu does, on occasion, have a head whip with his delivery when reaching back for more velocity on his fastball. However, it doesn’t seem to affect his ability to throw strikes with it. Still, it’s a mechanical issue that may need to be addressed.

Abreu has a four-pitch mix and can throw them all with confidence, supporting the belief that he could remain a starter long term. In the two games I saw him pitch in 2018, Abreu’s fastball, according to game announcers, sat 92-94, topping out at 95 or so and with arm side run that locks up right-handed hitters and produces weak contact, if the hitter was able to get wood on it at all. He’s not afraid to work it up in the zone and his ability to trust his secondary offerings allows his fastball to play up.

His slider comes in at 85-87 and mimics his curve at times but it frequently dives straight down as opposed to sweeping across the plate. When he’s on and repeating his delivery, it produces much swing and misses.

His curveball is a traditional curve that he throws in the low to mid-80s with moderate bend and is set up nicely with his other offerings. From what I saw, Abreu likes to use it versus left-handers, and his arm slot remains true, adding to the repertoire’s effectiveness.

His change is average, but I only saw him throw it a handful of times. He throws it 86-88, so there’s not a big difference in drop off from the fastball. However, it’s enough to keep hitters off balance and give them something else to think about, much in the same way Zack Greinke uses his changeup.

Abreu is definitely someone to keep a close eye on as he has the makings of a breakout prospect in 2019. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can simply point to the fact that this Low-A pitcher showed something special in 2018 and the organization felt the need to protect him.

On last Sunday’s Talking Stros, they came up with a compelling reason why Abreu was added to. Listen below.

Justin Verlander Wants to Challenge Charles Barkley in Golf and We Are All Winners, Now

The other day, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods went head-to-head to show everyone just how much money they have in the richest way possible: one-on-one golf. After one hole, as they were strolling along, Tiger casually bet $100,000 on closest to the pin, and I about damn near had a heart attack. I’m having a hard time justifying $20 purchases so yeah, these guys are really your everyday Average-Joes.

#TheMatch as it was pinned on Twitter, got a lot of attention, especially from current Astro Justin Verlander. Verlander challenged Charles Barkley, who was commenting on the match from the booth, to a one-on-one showdown of their own for $100,000 to their favorite charity. Frankly, I think this is the greatest idea in the history of professional sports.

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Who cares about the shot clock? Who cares about free agency? I love this idea, JV. Give the people what they want, and what they want are World Series champs blasting tiny dimpled balls all over the green. Verlander is a professional pitcher, which means by law, he has to be somewhat decent at golf.

That’s all pitchers do in the offseason if you didn’t know. They have their arm-strengthening exercises, they play long toss, and work the 7-iron over the sand trap. That’s it. And Barkley has got some game too, despite being notorious for having a swing that looks like his body is continuously being hijacked by Space Jam Monsters all over again.

The offer by Verlander got some major backing by Rockets PG Chris Paul who offered an additional $100K to make it happen.

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Side note: all these athletes throwing around the phrase “$100K” makes me feel super poor. Carry on.

There was also another offer that I think would be a cherry on the cake: free agent outfielder and American League All-Star Adam Jones wants to caddy for JV.

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How awesome is that? I think if we tried real hard, we could get Shaq to caddy for Barkley, and every hole we would get audio of him ragging on Chuck because he doesn’t have any championship rings. If I remember correctly, I do believe Verlander has a championship ring. Need to check my sources.

I also am a big time fan of anything Justin Verlander does in the offseason. During the Cy Young selection show a few weeks ago, the dude had a big ol’ glass of Pinot Grigio 97’ and didn’t give two f’s about it. Plus, whenever Verlander smack talks retired basketball stars, we all win.

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As we head to the opening tee, JV-1, Chuck-0.

Astros: Could they pull off a Greinke and Goldy trade?

A trade to fill two roster spots in one move for the Astros.

With the winter meetings around the corner, there are a lot of rumors out there about the Astros. GM’s across the league are looking for those Black Friday deals to improve their team for 2019. While the shopping holiday is over, this doesn’t mean the Astros are done trying to get the best deal. They are looking to add a starting pitcher or two, a catcher, and maybe another power bat. There are still many targets out there, but one way to make a big splash.

If the Astros are willing to take on a lot of salary, they can upgrade the rotation and lineup in one swoop. A few years ago, Zack Greinke opted out of his contract with the Dodgers similar to what Clayton Kershaw almost did this offseason. The Dodgers ponied up for Kershaw, but they let the Diamondbacks, a division rival, outbid them for Greinke. He signed with Arizona for 6 years $206.5 million, via Baseball-Reference. That was a hefty price to pay for the ace, but they thought they were one pitcher away.

Then the Shelby Miller trade happened. The Diamondbacks were a good team and Greinke had his moments, but they are looking to shed his $34.5 plus salary for the next three years. Actually, only $21 million goes on the books each year, the rest is deferred via USA Today. Greinke has $62.5 million deferred to be paid equally over five years starting in 2022.

Don’t forget that he would get $2 million if traded and can only be traded to 15 teams without his approval. That’s a lot for Greinke, who had a 15-11 record in 2018 with a 3.21 ERA with 199 strikeouts in 207 ⅔ innings pitched, via Baseball-Reference. The Astros are one of a few teams where Greinke would be the third pitcher in the rotation.

What about Goldy?

That was a lot of money being thrown around right there, which is why Greinke has not been traded yet. The Diamondbacks could also have an ace up their sleeve in Paul Goldschmidt, who will be a free agent after the season. He is one of the best players in the game and the Diamondbacks would not be able to afford him. Unless the Astros are able to extend him during the trade, they most likely couldn't afford him either. For the 2019 season, Goldschmidt is set to make $12.5 million after the team exercised the team option.

Wait, the Astros have Yuli Gurriel, why would they need Goldschmidt? He is a perennial MVP candidate who can hit for power, average, and steal a base here and there. Some have compared his ability to what Astros fans saw in Jeff Bagwell. He is coming off a down year, where he hit .290 with 33 homers and 83 RBI via Baseball-Reference. He added seven steals, but he had such a bad start to the season. He was red hot down the stretch. Goldschmidt is capable of driving in and scoring 100+ runs a year.

A possible trade.

There have been some rumors that the Cardinals are interested in Goldschmidt. If he goes to St. Louis, he may stick around. Anthony Castrovince has been one of the national writers to speculate that the Astros could possibly trade for both. In his article, he suggested a trade that sends Goldschmidt and Greinke plus $29.5 million to Houston. In return, the Diamondbacks would get Corbin Martin, Cionel Perez, and AJ Reed.

While most people would call that a “fanboy” trade offer, but the Astros would be taking on a big chunk of salary. If this trade would happen, it would cost the Astros $138 million, minus the $29.5 million, making it $108.5 million. Technically, they would be paying for the time he served with the Diamondbacks with the deferred money. The Astros would be getting him for the next three seasons, but would greatly increase the team payroll.

Fact or fiction?

Martin would be the centerpiece of the trade and Perez would be a wild card of the trade. Reed needs a change of scenery but is a former top prospect. With this type of trade, the more salary you take on, the less talent you have to give up. However, could this inhibit the Astros from re-signing some of their current players? This is something the Astros would take into consideration. It would give the Astros a third ace in 2019 and possibly the ace of the 2020-21 teams if Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole don’t re-sign.

If the Astros are able to pull this off, I could see Goldschmidt accepting an extension to play for his hometown team. He grew up in the Woodlands area. This trade could be fictional, but the team could trade for one of the two players. Goldschmidt would add a JD Martinez like presence to the lineup. Rumors have the Astros having some type of dialogue over Goldschmidt. The winter meetings could be exciting, keep tuned to Houston Preeminence.

A Post-Marwin World for the Astros

Have we seen the last of Marwin Gonzalez in an Astros uniform?

We may soon know the answer. I hope the Astros find a way to bring back the super utility guy that can play any position on the diamond. In the past seven seasons, we’ve watched Marwin grow into the player he is today. The first move Jeff Luhnow made after becoming the GM was to trade for Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox.

I think after the trade for Aledmys Diaz that the writing is on the wall that Gonzalez is gone. Diaz can play 3rd, shortstop and the outfield. He’ll be a huge asset during the season as last season he batted .263 with 18 home runs and 55 RBI in 130 games, via Baseball-Reference. Compare that to Gonzalez, who batted .247 with 16 homers in 145 games. I think he could play a big part this season and maybe even start the season as the Astros’ everyday left-fielder.

Another option to make up for the absences of Gonzalez’s bat would be trading for Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the Astros do this, Goldschmidt is now the everyday first baseman, and AJ Hinch could move Yuli Gurriel to DH. This option would bring more power to the lineup and make it even deeper than it was in 2017. Moving Yuli Gurriel to DH would take some stress off his body and keep him fresh for the postseason.

If Gonzalez is truly gone, I don’t think only one player can fill the void he leaves behind. It will take multiple guys, but I think it’s possible. The combination of Diaz, Goldschmidt (if they’re able to work out the trade for him) and Gurriel is a great place to start.

The market for Gonzalez is heating up right now, meaning the price for him is going up. If Houston could bring him back for four years and $70 million, I think they should do it. He was a big reason they won the World Series in 2017. His game-tying two home run might be the biggest home run in Astros history. He was a spark off the bench when they needed a clutch at-bat late in the game. He was a plus defender at every position he was asked to field. A.J. Hinch said if he had a problem, Gonzalez was the answer.

In closing, I feel the Astros should do what it takes to re-sign Gonzalez. He’s the best utility player in the game and has come up big in multiple big-time games. He’s a class act on and off the diamond. If they’re not able to re-sign him, then they should move on with one of the options I’ve presented. The Goldschmidt option is what I prefer and from what I’m hearing is a real possibility. With all this said, a post-Marwin world is a real possibility, but I don’t see it as an end to the dominance of the Astros. I see it as a way to get other guys involved in the run.

Top 30 MLB Free Agent Predictions (Part One)

It’s been a little over a month since the 2018 season ended, and while the stoves at home may be revving up for the holidays, the stove for transactions in Major League Baseball has been initially very cold. Frankly, it’s to be expected, because the winter meetings don’t start until December, and that’s usually when moves start happening pretty rapidly. However, that doesn’t stop fans from speculating while the General Managers are deliberating, so why not make a list of predictions for the top thirty free agents on the market.

1.Bryce Harper:

Whether you want to put Harper at the top of this list or Manny Machado, they’re pretty much interchangeable as far as contracts go. Both will command roughly 30 million dollars a year, if not more. Harper had a rough first half but contributed to a sub-par Nationals team in the second half. While his entire 2018 season wasn’t phenomenal, it still lands as one of his best. He’s only twenty-six years old, he’s just entering his prime, and we probably haven’t even seen the best of him yet.

Prediction: 9 yrs/300 million. The Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies are nearly done with a rebuild, and nearly made the playoffs last season without a late-season crumble, and it looks like they’re one or two pieces away from battling the Braves for a division title. Signing Bryce Harper could be the push over the edge they need.

2.Manny Machado:

Much of the same can be said for Machado as was said about Harper except the key to Machado is consistency. While Harper has had injuries that he’s dealt with, he’s finished four out of his first seven seasons with 139 games played or less. Machado has played all but two seasons, in his first seven seasons, of 155 games or more. The tale of the tape can also be said about postseason stats. Neither has been very good when it’s mattered most, and it has to come into play in the decision to sign a player to such a lucrative contract.

Prediction: 8 yrs/302 million. The New York Yankees.

Let’s face it. As much as we don’t like it, the Yankees always have money and will spend it when needed, and they need a more consistent player in their lineup when it comes to getting on base. Machado would fit right in with the evil empire.

3.Patrick Corbin:

Corbin turned in his most dominant season last year pitching 33 games with an ERA of 3.15, hurling 200 innings, the second time in his career he has reached that mark. If not for Jacob DeGrom, he might’ve been a favorite for the CY Young award. Easily the best starting pitcher on the market, and being a lefty, he will command a heavy sum to whoever wants his services come 2019.

Prediction: 6 yrs/162 million. The Philadelphia Phillies.

A young club, needing another star pitcher to go along with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, he’d be the perfect piece to make a three-headed monster. The Phils could look very dangerous come 2019

4.Dallas Keuchel:

Keuchel turned in a decent season in 2018, overcoming a dreadful first half, where he struggled in the majority of the first innings of games. Keuchel bounced back to the tune of a 3.74 ERA and pitched at least 200 innings for the third time in his career. With injury issues in past years, you wondered at times if Keuchel would ever get back to his CY Young year of 2015. He is still the best groundball pitcher in all of baseball. He’s the king of weak contact and allowed the fewest hits in the majors in 2018.

Prediction: 6 yrs/144 million. The Chicago Cubs.

With Jon Lester only getting older, and Yu Darvish’s status unknown for 2019, and his recent struggles, the Cubs need consistency and a proven veteran on their staff. Their window seems to be closing every so slightly, so maybe Keuchel can give them the shot in the arm they need.

5.Marwin Gonzalez:

The man can play anywhere in the infield and outfield apart from catcher and pitching and a gold glove caliber levels. He can hit for power, he has speed, he’s the most versatile player in the major leagues at the moment, and every team wants him to be wearing their jersey. In what was sort of a down year in 2018, he hit .247 but still hit sixteen homers. For a utility player who values to that of Ben Zobrist who received four years, fifty-six million, from the Chicago Cubs in 2015. Except Marwin Gonzalez is younger, and better.

Prediction: 4 yrs/64 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers.

With Manny Machado not re-signing, the Dodgers will be okay next season when Corey Seager comes back from a season-ending injury. However, with Chase Utley retiring, there’s a utility spot opening on the infield, and whom better to take over than the man of many positions.

6.Yasmani Grandal: While he is the best catcher currently on the market, it is a very thin market. The consistently below average hitter does have a decent amount of pop. He’s hit 20+ home runs for the past three seasons, which is somewhat of a rarity to find in a catcher. Fielding wise, he owns a career .994 fielding percentage, making him an asset. However, a second glance at his caught stealing rate in 2018 at 28% might make you rethink that.

Prediction: 3 yrs/42 million. The Houston Astros.

With the loss of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, the Astros current catcher situation is Max Stassi and Garrett Stubbs, a rookie who hasn’t even debuted yet. While Stubbs might be the future at the position, there is clearly a hole behind the dish. They could trade for J.T. Realmuto, but they’d probably have to give up either Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, which they aren’t too keen on doing, evidenced by past trades.

7. Craig Kimbrel:

In 2018 Kimbrel passed the forty save mark for the first time since 2014, and for the fifth time in his nine-year career. With an ERA of 2.74, Kimbrel still clocks up his fastball around the high 90’s to 100. He still stands like a crane before every pitch, and he’s still one of the most dominant closers of this era of baseball. Making a Hall of Fame case with each passing season, he is a free agent for the second time in his ever-growing illustrious career, and he will once again command a large contract as a free agent. Look at the Aroldis Chapman contract as the most recent evidence of how much he could get. One shouldn’t think he’ll get as much as Chapman, but he’ll be close.

Prediction: 4 yrs/ 66 million. The Atlanta Braves.

I smell a reunion coming this offseason. The Braves were a good team in 2018, and what better way to cap off the rebuild than by adding the man who spent the first five years of his career in Atlanta.

8.Nathan Eovaldi:

Eovaldi is a hard-throwing righty that regularly touches 100. His cutter will tear you up at the plate, and his command is ridiculous. He was a hero for Boston in 2018 coming over from the Rays midseason. Is his tremendous half season, and monstrous postseason performance enough to garner him a large contract? I think if you’re searching for a starter, Eovaldi is a guy to take a chance on. He’s always had the stuff, he just had to put it together, and in Boston, he put it together.

Prediction: 3 yrs/ 45 million. The Houston Astros.

The Astros are going into next season without potentially three out of their main five from 2018. Lance McCullers had Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for over a year, and Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel are free agents and could be headed elsewhere. A move is needed, and why not sign the hometown flame-throwing stud and pry him away from the team that bested you in the American League Championship Series.

9.Nelson Cruz:

He’s thirty-eight years old, but he still mashes. He’s hit thirty-five home runs for the past four seasons, and he doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of losing his pop. He doesn’t play the field much anymore, so he’d be the best fit to sign with an American League club, but there are no shortages of teams that need a powerful righty in the middle of their order.

Prediction: 2 yrs/ 26 million. The Houston Astros.

He won’t command anywhere near a twenty-million-dollar contract, and he won’t command a lengthy contract, as his age creeps up to him. This veteran will probably receive somewhere in between ten and fifteen million at most. Houston needs some power in their lineup after a significant drop off in 2018. Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Yuli Gurriel, and even Jose Altuve, showed signs of regression in the home run department. What team is a better fit, and how many other teams can give Nelson a true shot at a championship as his career winds down?

10.Jeurys Familia:

He’s still twenty-nine years old and is probably the second best closer on the market behind Kimbrel. In the past four years, he’s only posted an ERA higher than 3.15 one time, and it was in 2017; a season in which he only pitched twenty-six innings. He’s consistently good and will probably command somewhere below what Craig Kimbrel does.

Prediction: 5 yrs/ 75 million. The Boston Red Sox.

The Red-Sox will sign a closer this offseason, but it will not be Craig Kimbrel. They’re set to lose two to three major pitching assets from their championship team, however, don’t expect those spots to remain empty, and the sox to do nothing regarding the players leaving. Their window is still open, and Dave Dombrowski doesn’t seem content with one title.

**All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com**

Astros: Could Adam Ottavino be a primary target?

Adam Ottavino could make the Astros bullpen dominant.

The most significant difference between the 2017 Astros and it’s 2018 counterpart was the bullpen. With Ken Giles and company in 2017, the Astros had to rely on starters such as Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, and Collin McHugh as relievers. The front office addressed that last offseason and at the trade deadline. They brought in Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressly, and Roberto Osuna. McHugh also moved to the bullpen and was a critical piece to the success.

With the losses of Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers for 2019, McHugh will likely head back to the rotation. Josh James and Framber Valez could be options for the rotation or the bullpen. If McHugh is going to the rotation, they would need to look for an arm for the bullpen. Not just your average Joe, they have that in Smith, but a dominating setup guy. Maybe someone who pitched in Colorado last year.

What about Ottavino?

The 32-year-old Adam Ottavino is coming off his best year in 2018, where he had a 6-4 record with a 2.43 ERA while striking out 112 batters in 77 2/3 innings pitched. This is according to Baseball-Reference, where he also got six saves. According to Fangraphs, he also got a career-high 34 holds in 75 games pitched. Ottavino throws his fastball around 94 mph, slider at 81.4 mph, and a cutter at 87 mph.

Ottavino made $7 million in 2018, therein lies the problem, he will not be an easy player to sign. However, he is the type of pitcher the Astros seek out with his high spin-rates on his slider (2787 rpm) and cutter (2605 rpm) via Baseball Savant. We saw how much Pressly improved when he came to Houston.

However, the market price may be on the rise, and that price might take him out of range for the Astros. There will be a high demand for the right-hander who pitched well out of the Rockies bullpen. Even if the Astros are targeting him, would they do what it takes to outbid the competition? Once they decide on the per year value, the next question would be how many years could they offer? Unlike Tony Sipp after the 2015 season, Ottavino is probably seeking a longer-term deal.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session – The Rotation

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.) We will continue with the Off-Season Strategy Session.

MLB Free Agents- Pitching

With the announcement that Lance McCullers has indeed had Tommy John surgery the Starting Pitching is now ranked fourth by WAR in the MLB by Fangraphs.com. The Depth Chart projections assume the following stats by starters.

Potential Starters via Baseball-Reference

If these projections are right, 2019 will indeed be a significant transition year for the starting pitching. In 2018, the Astros had 165.2 innings pitched by starters 26-years-old and under, and 126 of those innings were by Lance McCullers. The 2019 projection here is for 380 innings with McCullers giving them ZERO. Will the Astros do that? I do not think so.

The assumption at this point is that the Astros will turn their starting pitching over to the next generation of young talented pitchers including James, Valdez, Whitley, and Bukauskas. While I believe this is likely partly true, I believe Valdez will be working from the bullpen with Cionel Perez as a Sipp replacement. Also, I do not believe Bukauskas, who pitched six innings in AA in 2019, should be counted on for eight starts and 46 IP. As shown in the Rule 5 draft section, I am not sure Brady Rodgers is on the roster for this team.

What is also interesting in this projection for who is NOT in this list- Colin McHugh. Depth Charts continues to list McHugh as a relief pitcher. I believe McHugh will win the starting pitching spot over Peacock and have a season similar to 2016 (assuming he stays healthy.) I believe Peacock will continue to have a long relief role. Therefore, I think the real state of the starting pitching looks more like this.

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This would mean there are 25-30 starts and 130-150 IP available. Given the other starters, this would ideally be an LHP. The profile for the ideal LHP in Minute Maid Park is one that tends to keep the ball in play and have a high ground ball percentage. With the Crawford Boxes so close an LHP with a high GB% is really best. This is the Dallas Keuchel formula. Following the same deep strategy analysis we did for catcher earlier, what are the Free Agent options?

Top LHP FA options

I am showing eight options for a left-handed starting pitcher free agent signing. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

Who is out there?

The options are numerous depending on how much the Astros are willing to spend and if they are willing to sign a player who has received the qualifying offer. With the new CBA, if the Astros sign a player who has received the qualifying offer, they would lose their second-round draft pick. Remember; when someone signs Dallas Keuchel (assuming it's not the Astros), the Astros will receive a pick in the 75-80 pick range. For this reason, I suspect the QO penalty will not deter the Astros from getting the player they want.

None of this data is my own, and the projected statistics are not mine. Which option would you pick?

There appear to be three groups

Go Big- Keuchel and Corbin. Both of these players would be at least a four-year commitment and most likely a five-year contract at roughly $20MM/yr AAV. If the Astros go this route, it will likely be because they were unable to find a willing trade partner for a number 2/3 starter.

Go Small- Garcia, and Holland. These two players are the reclamation- risk/reward option. These two are likely to get no more than a two-year contract and may get a one year deal only. If the Astros go this route, they are willing to risk if this signing does not work out that the prospects will.

Just Right?- Happ, Gonzalez, and Miley. With these three it is imperative to understand the final contract parameters. If the predictions are right, Gonzalez and Miley are not likely to be a good investment. J.A. Happ is an interesting option if he can be signed for two years, the Astros are confident he will not drop off dramatically at age 36, and if the AAV is kept at a favorable level.

I am going to say other teams spend the stupid money and the Astros, if they do sign a Free Agent Starting Pitcher, sign J.A. Happ for two years for $25MM total ($12.5MM AAV.)

The trade options are also too numerous to analyze in this space. As shown in the Rule 5 Draft roster listing, the Astros have various trade chips of varying value that could be pooled for a number 2/3 starter. This is a very likely scenario.

Astros: The Off-Season Strategy Session - Rule 5 Update

Looking ahead at the Astros Rule 5 decisions today.

November 20 is the day the Astros have to decide who they protect and don’t protect on their 40 man roster. As you will soon see, this is a significant challenge this year. It is such a challenge I am revisiting my earlier submission to draw focus to this eminent activity.

On 11/2/18, the Astros signed Chris Herrmann in a classic quiet Jeff Luhnow increase your options and low risk- high potential reward type of move. His name shows in green in the table above. This move will set up other potential bigger moves at catcher will discuss in later sections.

On 11/17/18, the Astros made a quiet move you may not understand the consequences fully until after opening day. The Astros traded prospect Trent Thornton (who was likely to be lost in the Rule 5 draft) for needed IF depth Aledmys Diaz. As Eric Huysman highlighted already, Diaz is likely to replace Marwin Gonzalez as the primary utility player.

The following table shows what I believe will be the Rule 5 draft roster IF no Ramon Laureano type trades are made between now and 11/20/18 (the day Rule 5 rosters are set).

The table shows four types of players

  • Black font and shaded Green or White- players who will remain on the 40-man roster
  • Red Font and shaded Red or Pink- Players eligible for Rule 5 who are MOST likely to be added
  • Blue Font and shaded blue- Players eligible for Rule 5 who are not likely to be on roster- Draft eligible. Some of these are targets to be traded
  • Yellow shading- Players not yet eligible for the Rule 5 and ranked as top 30 Astros Prospects by MLB Pipeline.

Projected

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The number is the prospect ranking in the Astros system. A study of this highlights that I have taken Brady Rodgers and Wil Harris OFF of the 40- man roster. There are two groups of additions.

  • Sure bets to be added- shaded red- Garrett Stubbs, Rogelio Armenteros, Riley Ferrell
  • Bubble candidates to be added- shaded pink- Drew Ferguson, Brendan McCurry, Jonathan Arauz

If the Astros added all of these the roster would be at 39 which leaves limited room for Free Agent signings. I think it is more likely one of the three bubble candidates will be added, and the roster will be at 37 players.

Also, as shown, the top prospects such as Whitley, Alvarez, Martin, Beer, and Bukauskas are not on the projected 40-man roster. It is highly possible at least one if not more of these players will be added to the roster in 2019. The Astros will want to be careful to have 40-man roster slots to add these players when they are ready.

What this shows is that the Astros have significant talent other teams may be interested in drafting in the Rule 5 draft. Many of these players may be used as Trent Thornton was to acquire either talent to fill gaps or non-Rule 5 draft eligible prospects. The list of these players is not even complete here but focuses on the highest profile players eligible for the draft.

Astros Bold Prediction 2: J.T. Realmuto deal is in the works.

Time to get the deal done Astros for J.T. Realmuto.

On Tuesday, the Astros will be adding some players to the 40-man roster, or they risk losing them. There are several players eligible for the Rule 5 draft at the end of the Winter Meetings in December. One of those players who were eligible for the Rule 5 draft was Trent Thornton, but he was traded to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz. There are now four other top-30 prospects who need to be protected ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.

We discussed all of the four players on last night’s Talking Stros but focused mostly on one player. That is, Garrett Stubbs, who could battle Max Stassi and Chris Herrmann for the starting catcher job in 2019. If you are an Astros fan, those thoughts should send shivers down your spine. Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are not on the team at the moment as free agents. The Astros will explore all other options before re-signing Maldonado.

This is including looking for free agents and examining the trade market. Not knowing what the future holds, the Astros could be hesitant to add too many players to the 40-man roster. They have to add Rogelio Armenteros, but they may have to move a player to protect Riley Ferrell as well. On Talking Stros last Sunday, we discussed how the Astros were more likely to add via trades versus signing a player. Jeff Passan confirmed that later last week.

Realmuto?

They need a catcher. The Marlins need to trade catcher J.T. Realmuto. It makes too much sense that the two teams get together for a deal. What is the holdup? As we saw with the James Paxton trade to the Yankees, the Astros are not willing to give up Forrest Whitley (or Kyle Tucker). According to rumors, the Marlins still feel like they can get one of those two players in a deal. However, no deal has been made, yet.

This could change quickly. The Washington Nations just added Kurt Suzuki, so they are not looking for a catcher. It has already been reported that the Dodgers are after Realmuto, but they may not have the prospects available that the Astros could offer. J.B. Buskaukas, Stubbs, and a couple of other prospects that would hurt. However, they will try to hold onto Whitley, Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez. As much as you can trust Jeff Luhnow to get the deal done, you see what the Marlins are reportedly asking from the Dodgers. It’s so ridiculous and not worth mentioning.

Realmuto is one of the best catchers in the game stuck in Florida. The team is in a rebuilding phase, but the Marlins held onto him. He batted .274 with 21 homers and 74 RBI, which would fit in well in the Astros lineup. However, as Brandon DelCastillo keeps saying on Talking Stros, two years of Realmuto is not worth seven years of Tucker or Whitley. However, there are other players the Marlins could be interested.

Craig Mish thinks the Astros and Braves are most likely to trade for Realmuto.

The Mets have also joined the catching search, but the Astros appear to have the biggest need. Realmuto is not just a good hitter; he is an all-around player. He throws out 33% of the runners trying to steal and is a good pitch framer. As a bonus, he played eight games at first base last year.

Look for a deal to get done soon, but predicting the players involved is hard to do. They could look to complete a deal soon before Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal are taken off the market. They don’t want to be stuck with a combo of Stassi, Herrmann, or Stubbs at the start of the season. Stay tuned Astros fans, big moves on the horizon.

Astros Bold Prediction 1: Team signs Nelson Cruz with a one-year deal

Could the Astros bring in Nelson Cruz?

Fans have seen it before. The Astros bring in a hated veteran to help the team get to the playoffs. They did it in 2017 by bringing Carlos Beltran back to Houston for a one year deal. While Beltran did not have much of an impact offensively, he offered valuable leadership and added to the culture of the team. Beltran was 39 at the time and played his final game at 40-years-old. Could the Astros do the same in 2019?

The Astros are looking for a big bat, but can’t afford Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. They could add another outfielder if the price is right, but they want to give Kyle Tucker a chance to shine. The only real needs they have offensively is an everyday catcher and possibly a designated hitter. Yes, they have Tyler White, but a team is always looking to add to the depth of the roster.

Since moving to the American League, the Astros have had to face designated hitter Nelson Cruz 19 times a year. Even though it seems like more, but Cruz has hit 25 homers versus the Astros while batting .263 via Baseball-Reference. Cruz has played for the Rangers, Mariners, and one season with the Orioles. Yes, he played a handful of games with the Brewers as a rookie, but who remembers that? He has spent most of his career in the AL West. Maybe he can finish there as well.

With the trade of James Paxton, the Mariners are facing a mini-rebuild. They have no interest in the 38-year-old Cruz. Like Beltran with the Yankees, Cruz’s stats dropped in 2018, but not as drastic. According to Baseball-Reference, his batting average dropped to .256, about 7% lower than his career .274. After three years with an OPS of .900+, it dropped to .850 in 2018. He still managed to hit 37 homers and drive in 97 runs. With the power still there, someone will give him a chance in 2019.

With the winter meetings approaching, it would not be surprising if the Astros were already in talks with Cruz. It makes sense if it is only a one year deal, this would give the Astros a power bat in the five hole. His days of batting third or cleanup are over, but he could provide us with a regular DH. Unlike Evan Gattis, Cruz can still play in the outfield when they play a National League team. However, like Beltran, his outfield days may be behind him.

Talking Stros 2018-11-18 Seth Beer joins the show

8:00 Aledmys Diaz trade - can play shortstop and third base has played in the outfield before

8:20 - Rule 5 protection talk (who gets protected and who doesn't?)

8:40 - Upgrade the rotation via trade

9:00 - Astros rumors, are they really all in for Realmuto?

9:20 - Potential free agents (starting pitchers and catchers)

9:40 - Astros prospect Seth Beer joins the show

Astros Prospect Attachment Syndrome

Hello. I’m Wayne, and I have Prospect Attachment Syndrome as an Astros fan. It started over three years ago.

July 30, 2015, was a rough day. My upstart Houston Astros were in a position to make a playoff run, and the MLB trade deadline was all aflutter with rumors.

I was simultaneously excited that we were about to possibly trade for a big-time bat, a legit veteran starting pitcher, and do so without severely mortgaging the promising future of the organization.

Then, news started trickling in. The Astros were getting Carlos Gomez. I threw up a little in my mouth. “I hope we didn’t give up too much,” I thought to myself. Then, I heard we were also getting Mike Fiers.

I didn’t mind getting Fiers, as the rotation definitely needed another piece. However, my next thought proved correct. I believe it was something similar to what Ralphie said on the side of the road. For the record, I didn’t think “fudge” either.

I knew immediately that acquiring Fiers meant more was going to go back to Milwaukee than I was going to be happy with. Again, I fudging proved correct. Going to the Brewers were four of my favorite Astros prospects: Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader, and the one that caused me the most heartbreak, Brett Phillips.

I wasn’t alone, either. Several Astros Twitter mainstays also were distraught. Moreover, like me, they were distraught over the same guy, Brett Phillips. Losing a future bulldog on the mound? Meh. Losing a 30-homer outfielder? Bummer. Losing a potential Chris Sale type of lefty? Yeeesh, but okay. Losing a damn good dude that interacted with fans on Twitter and has the best laugh in sports? Oh, hell Nah fam! “Not Brett! Oh dear god, please not Brett!” However, of course, it was him.

Fudge fudge fudgitty fudge fudge fudge!

The rest is history, as we now know. Santana did develop into a 30-homer outfielder. Houser made his big league debut. Hader became arguably the most dominant reliever in the game. Phillips, my first prospect love, has since been dealt with yet another team and has yet to live up to his (actually, mine!) promise on the field. I still miss him and want him back. I cry sometimes.

So why bring this up? Well, a couple of reasons. First, this regrettable trade introduced me to Prospect Attachment Syndrome or PAS. No, the American Psychiatric Association has not deemed PAS worthy of addition to the DSM, but it is real. Second, with suddenly six to seven spots to fill on their 40-man roster this winter, Jeff Luhnow should be busy over the next month or so. This means that there’s a distinct possibility that some of the organization’s top prospects will no longer be with the Astros. In other words, my attachment to prospects Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, and Yordan Alvarez, among others, will be tested.

However, with any malady, there are usually precipitants to full-blown PAS. These warning signs are often overlooked and dismissed as “male menopause,” “irrational emotional outbursts,” or, in its more nascent stages, “onset prospect dysphoria.”

Through my experiences, research, and perusals through social media, I have been able to identify three early identifiers that sufferers of PAS often have before their symptoms become acute. My hope is that I can bring awareness to Astros fans before Luhnow goes to the Winter Meetings in December and trades away our sure-fire future Hall of Famers.

Unusual Knowledge of Minor Leaguers Below Double-A

PAS sufferers tend to know when a minor league player was drafted or signed, for how much, for how much below or above slot they were, what round they were taken in, what hillside village they are from, and how much they’ve improved since joining their country’s baseball youth academy at age 13. This is all important information to the PAS afflicted. When combined with some of the more advanced metrics, it paints a picture that allows our man to lay awake at night furiously typing on their Notes app the projected Opening Day roster for their favorite team in 2025.

Our poor subject will also have an updated organization positional depth chart, for when the inevitable moment a friend wants to know how many people Cody Bohanek has to leapfrog to get his chance to prove what you already know about him, that he’s a freaking stud! In more severe cases of PAS, sufferers also have an unusual knowledge of other team’s low-level minor league players. In this case, they may also be recluses and/or sociopaths.

The Belief That Other Fans Know What the Hell You’re Talking About

You know how this plays out. You see a fellow fan at your local Academy store and immediately bypass the traditional greetings and delve right into the exciting news you wish to share:

You, the PAS Sufferer, wearing a Jon Singleton jersey: Man, did you see Carlos Machado on the MiLB stream last night? Dude is raking, am I right?

Them, the normal fan that actually spends time with his family: Um, yeah, I guess so.

You: Bro, if he keeps this up, he might crack my personal top-50 prospects rankings in the system by July and get promoted to High-A.

Them: (stares bewildered at you)

You: (grins and nods head repeatedly like a used car salesman closing the deal)

Normal-Fan: He related to Manny Machado?

You: Pffft, and you call yourself a fan. Embarrassing, bro.

Those with PAS are also likely to have limited skills in reading social cues. In this case, the PAS sufferer mistakes his friend’s blank stare for what it is, and instead, interprets the reaction as, “yeah, you feel me, bro!” Instead of the actual meaning of, “oh my god, he needs help. I bet this is how Jeffery Dahmer started out.”

The self-aware sufferer of PAS will identify quickly that they may have a problem. A quick inventory of meaningful relationships, for instance, could be helpful in early recognition. If their closest friend is @alsohasnolife, then the self-aware will be able to identify that they are heading in the wrong direction and seek early intervention, such as psychotherapy or support groups, where the sufferers can mingle with other in recovery and develop healthier coping skills.

The Belief That EVERY Prospect in Your Favorite Team’s System Will Make It to The Show and be All-Stars

Associated with this trait is the belief that you, the Uncle Rico of your family, are a capable baseball scout, and that if you could only walk away from your family obligations, you would be the next Jonathan Mayo. After all, based on the six YouTube videos you watched of him, you predicted in 2016 that Josh James would eventually be a top-100 prospect in all of baseball and take every opportunity to tell fellow fans that, “Man I told you! I called that!”

You also know with 100% certainty that the 16-year-old infielder from Venezuela with the name you can’t pronounce and hadn’t heard of the day before is the next Jose Altuve. The harsh reality is that only a ridiculously low percentage of current minor leaguers will ever make it to The Show. However, for our undeterred man, this really only applies to other teams, not their beloved organization. The problem here is obvious. That is if every prospect will make it, how do they eventually find a spot on the MLB roster?

The resulting conundrum is that our sufferer will perform mental gymnastics to lay out HIS plan for the organization which will allow all of the prospects a chance to shine without having to part with any of them. Here, the thought of losing any of these players causes anxiety and depression. To cope, our man looks ahead to the 2021 draft and maps out the organization’s priorities and which players should be targeted.

Another aspect of this trait is the fallacy of scouting statistics, not the player. PAS sufferers love statistics and can predict a player’s future performance based on how they perform in the Gulf Coast League. The PAS sufferer imagines himself in “A Beautiful Mind,” deriving meaning from connected the dots with elaborate formulas and video game statistical projections, drawn out on any random scrap of paper, window, or company letterhead while he sits in a redundant work meeting.

There are, of course, many other traits associated with PAS but the above three are the most common. You may be taking a personal inventory at this point. You may have noticed that you, too, are suffering and require immediate intervention. You may also have identified family members. Acknowledging PAS is the first step. Seek help now!

The timing of this public service announcement cannot be minimized, as soon we will witness on social media the depths of PAS when the Astros acquire J.T. Realmuto, for instance. I will caution those that seek to intervene on behalf of loved ones. Provide them with love and understanding. Let them share of their grief of losing their favorite prospect. There will be other prospects to follow, and in time, the pain subsides.

Stay strong my friends. PS, the Astros just traded Trent Thornton to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz, I’ll see myself out.

Brad Lidge Subconsciously Hates the Astros with FA picks

Former Astros closer doesn't give the Astros a shot to sign the top free agents.

Brad Lidge has made quite a name for himself with his post-playing career. He is a special assistant to the Phillies and has carved out a nice little niche for himself on MLB Radio. He has a gentle speaking voice, but in reality, I’m not buying this nice-guy routine. Houston gave him his start and the only reason he is really famous at all because he gave up a home run to Albert Pujols. I swear to God that that ball still hasn’t landed. The problem with Brad Lidge is that I am 100% convinced he subconsciously hates the Houston Astros.

The first year he left Houston for Philadelphia, he decided to win a World Series with the Phillies. Didn’t want to bring it home for his pride and joy. I mean c’mon Brad, your Baseball-Reference.com picture is you in an Astros cap, dude. You couldn’t do it in 2005, but could in 2008? Judas! He had 123 saves in an Astros uniform and was a top-2 closer in the league in 2005, but for some reason. He even recruited Roy Oswalt to Philly in 2010 just to rub it in our face. Brad Lidge has some built-up hostility in the back of his mind for the Astros and here’s why:

Brad Lidge was cited in a tweet earlier this week by MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that showed expert opinions on free agent destinations. The three players of interest in this tweet are Nathan Eovaldi, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel.

Image via MLB Network

Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi is from Houston. I would know, I pitched with him growing up and played with him on some all-steam teams in high school. He threw hard then, and he still does now. The Astros like these type of high spin rate guys, and Eovaldi showing a competency for both starting a relieving (as evident in the longest ever world series game where he threw 7 innings in relief) could make him a valuable asset with Lance McCullers out for all of 2019, and Dallas Keuchel most likely leaving for free agency.

He could be a taller, thicker, higher velocity Collin McHugh with his versatility and longevity. So of course, with all of this well-balanced and artfully crafted information, whom does Lidge have Eovaldi going to? The Yankees. He just thinks Eovaldi is a cash-grabbing monster, and I can’t respect someone who believes that of a the second-Alvin-coming of Nolan Ryan.

Yasmani Grandal

Grandal is a catcher, and it’s no surprise that the Astros need a catcher because the last two catchers they’ve had almost entirely qualify for social security by themselves. Side note: God bless Brian McCann. Grandal is all but leaving Los Angeles as no expert has him returning. Even noted Astros-troll and Rangers telecast buffoon C.J. Nitkowski has Grandal going to the Astros, as they look to field one between the $14-17M/year range.

There have been talks about trading for Marlin’s J.T. Realmuto, but the asking price could be too high, as they have requested top prospects, Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, to be apart of a package. A majority of the experts have him going to the Astros. So who does Lidge have Grandal signing with? The Braves. That’s right, the man who didn’t want to deliver a World Series ring to Houston picked the one team that Houstonian's had nightmares of in October from the years 1997-2003. Lidge apparently wants to hurt us so much that he is the only “expert” to pick Grandal to Atlanta. Cheap shot received Lidge, cheap shot indeed.

Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel is statistically speaking, 99.9% not coming back to Houston. That’s my own stat, and it will be spoken into existence. He even admitted on Fox News he would shave his beard to be a Yankee. That’s the baseball version of a Blue-Footed Booby doing his high-stepping line dance in an attempt to find a mate. After turning down the barely-sub $18M qualifying offer, Keuchel is going to garner much attention from clubs. He finally had a healthy season, has showed a proclivity in coming up big in prime-time games and is of course…left-handed.

The experts are split on DK’s landing spot and to be honest, so am I. The fit though, it would seem, would be a team who is a borderline contender can handle the $19-22M/year that Boras will be asking for him. Most have him going to a team like Washington, or Atlanta, or even Milwaukee. Heck, I would even say Philadelphia. So who does Lidge have signing Keuchel? The Angels. Let me remind you the Angels are IN THE SAME DIVISION as his former team, have the two best players on the freaking planet but no one else, and finished 23 games out of first place last year.

I think it’s pretty obvious that Brad Lidge deep down inside is resentful to the Astros, and it shows here. I loved Lights Out Lidge more than anyone, so it hurts to see his bias showing. Read Common Sense by Thomas Paine Brad and get back to me, sir.

***Stats via Baseball-Reference***

Why the Astros traded for Aledmys Diaz

A look at the reasons why the Astros traded for Aledmys Diaz.

Most people are shopping for their Thanksgiving meals today. Some people are kids birthday party hopping like me. Others are possibly traveling out of state with the kids being off for a week. That’s other people, Jeff Luhnow is trying to work on deals to improve the Astros. With the winter meetings two weeks away, the hot stove is about to get hot. The Astros struck a deal with the Blue Jays earlier.

With the likely departure of Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros appeared set to use Yuli Gurriel in that semi-super utility role. Gurriel probably can’t play shortstop, but if the need arose, then Alex Bregman could have played in that role. Still, who would have played third/first base would have been the question. Tyler White could play first with Gurriel moving to third could have been an option as well.

However, it was nice having Gonzalez in that role.

The market for Gonzalez is very active at the moment, meaning the price to re-sign him would be on the rise. Having a depth piece in the infield wouldn’t hurt until we see options arise in the minors. If the Astros are to let Gonzalez walk, this symbolizes the value they assign to a role player. Gonzalez was valuable for them because of his position flexibility, but also that he was cheap. So they were looking at the trade market for an upgrade, not the free agent class. This is what we discussed on last week’s Talking Stros, look for trades versus free agent signings. Jeff Passan confirmed this.

Monday, the Astros have to protect certain players from the Rule 5 draft. Trent Thornton was one of those players, we will discuss that group in a separate article. If the Astros did not add Thornton to the 40-man roster, a team could have picked him up via the Rule 5 draft. Via the Astros, Luhnow said there has been a lot of trade interest in Thornton, so he would have likely been claimed. Like we saw with Ramon Laureano, they made a deal to get something for him.

The deal.

The Astros made a deal mid-morning in Saturday that will have a lasting effect for the next four years. They make a trade for Aledmys Diaz, a shortstop/third baseman from the Blue Jays. This news was broken by Chandler Rome and others. They do give up an MLB ready arm in Thornton, but that is a position of depth for the team at Triple-A.

This is also what Luhnow mentioned after the trade. With Rogelio Armenteros, Brady Rodgers, Dean Deetz, and Josh James in fold, then Thornton was somewhat expendable. We can reevaluate the deal later in terms of giving him up, but you have to give up something to get something. The Astros now have team control through 2022 via Baseball-Reference. He is in his final season before he is arbitration eligible.

While some may question his defense, his bat is legit. The 28-year-old Diaz batter .263 with 18 homers and 55 RBI in 2018. Diaz only struck out 62 times in 422 at-bats in 2018. With only three years of MLB experience, he brings a lot of talent to Houston after breaking out with the Cardinals in 2016. Look at Diaz as a cheap option to replace Gonzalez. Luhnow did say that he could play multiple positions, even a little left field.

Did I just say that? You can’t replace a player like Gonzalez who carried the Astros offense in the ALDS. Gonzalez became a big part of the team's culture, with his position flexibility and leadership. Unlike Gonzalez, Diaz is not a switch hitter and has not played much outfield, but Tony Kemp can. This move also rules out the need to bring Gonzalez back. Will it pay off? Only time will tell, but it looks good at the moment.

What is the Astros Most Needed Position This Offseason?

There are a few holes to patch up on the Astros roster this offseason.

The offseason will be heating up soon in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the “Hot Stove” will be burning hot as teams will be making moves in preparation of the 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox stopped the Houston Astros in their quest at back-to-back World Series Championships. Every offseason there will be roster turnover, and it’s an unfortunate reality that some crucial players will not be on the team when Spring Training kicks off in March.

Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Charlie Morton are a few names that could be wearing a different uniform in 2019. When we look at the Astros roster, losing key players previously mentioned is a gut-punch, but the Minor League system and current Astros players will have to step up. However, the most pressing need that Houston has for this offseason is the catcher position.

For the Astros in 2018, they fielded a few catchers throughout the season. Brian McCann, Martin Maldonado, Max Stassi, and Tim Federowicz all were behind the plate for Houston. Currently, the only one of those four players is on the roster, Max Stassi. McCann’s 15-million-dollar team option was declined, and Maldonado will hit free agency. It is obvious that General Manager Jeff Luhnow will have to figure out a better option to be the starting catcher for a team that is going to be a World Series contender for many years to come. We will look at what could be going through the mind of Luhnow and the realistic options the team can look at to improve the team.

In-House Candidates

In all honesty, the Astros are thin at catcher from top to bottom. As mentioned before, Max Stassi is the lone backstop on the MLB team from last year and is one of two catchers on the 40-man roster along with the recently acquired Chris Herrmann. Garrett Stubbs is the organization’s 15th best prospect according to MLB.com and is in AAA. If Luhnow believes Stubbs is ready, we could see him in the MLB as early as this season. Another catcher in AAA is Jamie Ritchie, but Stubbs would almost certainly get the call before him.

Outside Options

Jeff Luhnow is always scouring the market seeking ways to improve the organization. This offseason there are options on the free agent market that could entice the Astros general manager into spending some money to get a sizeable upgrade for the squad. The top of the free agent class for catchers are Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Grandal will come with a hefty price tag. Ramos was the American league’s representative for starting catcher and was traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. A few other options are Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters. The Astros could also decide to keep their own free agents with either one of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. The “Belle of the ball,” so to speak, of all the possible options, would not be a signing; it would be a trade for arguably the best catcher in the MLB: JT Realmuto of the Miami Marlins. Realmuto has been said to be unhappy with the rebuild in Miami. Especially, after the team traded away other top players Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. There would be a steep price in the form of prospects form any team that would be interested in bringing him on board.

What I would do

Even though no one probably cares what I would do for the Astros, I care, so this is what I would do: trade for J.T. Realmuto. Like I said before, it’s going to take a lot to get Realmuto from the Marlins, but the Astros should be willing to give up a strong package of prospects for the Miami catcher. Realmuto never had interest in being part of a rebuild with the Marlins. Houston has made top prospect right-handed starting pitcher Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker untouchable in trades, but the Astros could interest Miami with a trade package starting with MLB.com’s 3rd best Astros prospect Yordan Alvarez.

My trade package for Realmuto: Alvarez, left-handed pitcher Cionel Perez (#5), right-handed starter JB Bukauskas (#8), and a lower level minor leaguer.

*#’s are MLB.com Astros prospect ranking

Why the Marlins do this:

If you are going to rebuild, you might as well tear it down and start over a la the Astros and Cubs. This trade package gives the Marlins three highly regarded prospects that can play in the majors right now or are close to reaching the MLB; plus a possible “lottery ticket” type minor leaguer as well.

Why the Astros do this:

The Astros are going to be a top team in the league for a long time, but with stiff competition from the A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians, they need to keep staying at the top and make the rich even richer. The price to pry Realmuto from Miami will be significant, but Houston has a deep farm system and could live with letting some of that minor league depth go. Realmuto is under club control for two more seasons until he becomes a free agent himself, according to Spotrac. Getting an all-star catcher for two full seasons? Sign me up.

By Cameron Villavaso

The offseason will be heating up soon in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the “Hot Stove” will be burning hot as teams will be making moves in preparation of the 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox stopped the Houston Astros in their quest at back-to-back World Series Championships. Every offseason there will be roster turnover, and it’s an unfortunate reality that some crucial players will not be on the team when Spring Training kicks off in March. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Charlie Morton are a few names that could be wearing a different uniform in 2019. When we look at the Astros roster, losing key players previously mentioned is a gut-punch, but the Minor League system and current Astros players will have to step up. However, the most pressing need that Houston has for this offseason is the catcher position.

For the Astros in 2018, they fielded a few catchers throughout the season. Brian McCann, Martin Maldonado, Max Stassi, and Tim Federowicz all were behind the plate for Houston. Currently, the only one of those four players is on the roster, Max Stassi. McCann’s 15-million-dollar team option was declined, and Maldonado will hit free agency. It is obvious that General Manager Jeff Luhnow will have to figure out a better option to be the starting catcher for a team that is going to be a World Series contender for many years to come. We will look at what could be going through the mind of Luhnow and the realistic options the team can look at to improve the team.

In-House Candidates

In all honesty, the Astros are thin at catcher from top to bottom. As mentioned before, Max Stassi is the lone backstop on the MLB team from last year and is one of two catchers on the 40-man roster along with the recently acquired Chris Herrmann. Garrett Stubbs is the organization’s 15th best prospect according to MLB.com and is in AAA. If Luhnow believes Stubbs is ready, we could see him in the MLB as early as this season. Another catcher in AAA is Jamie Ritchie, but Stubbs would almost certainly get the call before him.

Outside Options

Jeff Luhnow is always scouring the market seeking ways to improve the organization. This offseason there are options on the free agent market that could entice the Astros general manager into spending some money to get a sizeable upgrade for the squad. The top of the free agent class for catchers are Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Grandal will come with a hefty price tag. Ramos was the American league’s representative for starting catcher and was traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. A few other options are Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters. The Astros could also decide to keep their own free agents with either one of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. The “Belle of the ball,” so to speak, of all the possible options, would not be a signing; it would be a trade for arguably the best catcher in the MLB: JT Realmuto of the Miami Marlins. Realmuto has been said to be unhappy with the rebuild in Miami. Especially, after the team traded away other top players Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. There would be a steep price in the form of prospects form any team that would be interested in bringing him on board.

What I would do

Even though no one probably cares what I would do for the Astros, I care, so this is what I would do: trade for JT Realmuto. Like I said before, it’s going to take a lot to get Realmuto from the Marlins, but the Astros should be willing to give up a strong package of prospects for the Miami catcher. Realmuto never had interest in being part of a rebuild with the Marlins. Houston has made top prospect right-handed starting pitcher Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker untouchable in trades, but the Astros could interest Miami with a trade package starting with MLB.com’s 3rd best Astros prospect Yordan Alvarez.

My trade package for Realmuto: Alvarez, left-handed pitcher Cionel Perez (#5), right-handed starter JB Bukauskas (#8), and a lower level minor leaguer.

*#’s are MLB.com Astros prospect ranking

Why the Marlins do this:

If you are going to rebuild, you might as well tear it down and start over a la the Astros and Cubs. This trade package gives the Marlins three highly regarded prospects that can play in the majors right now or are close to reaching the MLB; plus a possible “lottery ticket” type minor leaguer as well.

Why the Astros do this:

The Astros are going to be a top team in the league for a long time, but with stiff competition from the A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians, they need to keep staying at the top and make the rich even richer. The price to pry Realmuto from Miami will be significant, but Houston has a deep farm system and could live with letting some of that minor league depth go. Realmuto is under club control for two more seasons until he becomes a free agent himself, according to Spotrac. Getting an all-star catcher for two full seasons? Sign me up.

Houston Astros Offseason Checklist

Reflecting back on the 2018 season for the Houston Astros, I still feel some disbelief in the way the season ended. Following the news of Lance McCullers out for the 2019 season, following Tommy John surgery, along with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa on the mend. Key free agent decisions are looming. What should the Astros offseason checklist be?

Resign Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado

Despite the struggles Dallas Keuchel had this season, the Houston Astros have extended a one year $17.9 million qualifying offer which Keuchel rejected today. After the news regarding McCullers and the current outlook of Houston's pitching staff being so right-handed dominant, keeping Dallas whether on a short 2 to 3-year deal or a long-term deal depending on how long Keuchel wants to pitch; retaining him is a must. Keuchel in the past has shown the ability to rebound following a down season, he struggled in 2016 going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA via ESPN.

Keuchel brings much more than just his pitching. He is also the best defensive pitcher in the game, winning four gold gloves. It is understandable that Keuchel rejected Houston's qualifying offer. He appears to want more than just one more season, good pitching can be hard to find, and as long as the price is right, the Astros should not hesitate to resign Dallas.

Much like Keuchel, Gonzalez grew with the organization through the rebuilding years, to help hoist the franchise's first world championship. Honestly, every team needs a Gonzalez, he can play every position and do it comfortably, and though he does not put up huge numbers at the plate, Marwin brings a switch-hitting bat capable of getting on base as well as hit for some power. For everything Marwin has brought the Astros, Houston would be wise not to let Gonzalez walk without a fight.

Retaining Maldonado would be pretty interesting, but a move the Astros should make. Despite being linked to possibly trading for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston currently has no catcher outside Max Stassi on the roster. Maldonado does not bring a consistent bat, though he showed he could build a great rapport with pitchers and handle a pitching staff. Despite having a disastrous performance behind the plate in the ALCS, Maldonado is more well known for being great behind the plate. Should the Astros strike out trading for Realmuto, bringing back, Maldonado would give Houston continuity at that position, as well as they will not have to scramble for anyone.

Contact Cleveland and Seattle about possible trades

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted the Cleveland Indians, are open to listening to trade offers for Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, via ESPN. MLB.com Executive reporter also tweeted the Seattle Mariners, have made everyone available for trades, via Feinstein. Regardless of whether Houston can bring back their free agents, or not, the Astros should at least kick the tires with both teams. The big question with Seattle is, would they consider trading inside the division? Houston would also have to be careful trading with the Mariners because the last thing Houston wants is to help a division foe improve.

Cleveland even entertaining the thought of selling is a bit head-scratching. While they weren't as good as Boston, Houston, and New York right now, the Indians are a team a trade and a possible big free agent signing, boom they are back in the mix.

Bolster the bullpen

Collin McHugh figures to slot back into Lance McCullers’ spot in the rotation, which leaves an opening in the bullpen. Relievers Tony Sipp and Will Harris are both free agents, and both may not return which would leave three spots in the pen open. Josh James who was electric in 2018 figures to get at least one of those spots, if he is not in the rotation next year.

Final Take

2018 ended before the Astros wanted it to, and the roster figures to look a little different next year. Health did play a part in Houston falling short, so regardless of how this team looks on paper going into next season, health will be the biggest key to a return trip to the fall classic in 2019.

Astros: On to the Next One

“Kimbrel deals, in the air, deep left field, hit well, Benintendi on the run, he’s got it! The Boston Red Sox are moving on to the 2018 World Series!” BOOM! The Houston Astros season came to an early end, and they were not able to repeat as World Series Champions! A quiet Minute Maid Park crowd in complete shock and in despair to see their Astros lose on their home turf, to the Boston Red Sox. Carlos Correa is looking from the dugout, disgusted, while his teammates hit the locker room. Looking at the Red Sox jump up and down, celebrating on the mound, knowing they beat the defending champs, and are moving on to the World Series. Now, what’s next for the Houston Astros?

Well, injuries during the postseason were killing the Astros, such as a one-legged Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa dealing with an aching back, and Lance McCullers Jr. bothered by his pitching arm. Now, we see Jose Altuve having surgery on his bad right knee, repairing a patella fracture, however, he will be ready for Spring Training in 2019. Just after the last game of the season, rumors were going around saying Lance McCullers might need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL ligament in his elbow. Carlos has told us throughout the whole postseason, saying “I know every time I swing and miss it’s going to hurt.” He’s been dealing with a bad back since the All-Star Break. With an unhealthy Astros roster, it was hard for the ‘Stros to repeat as World Series champs, however, they never gave up and kept playing every game.

The season is over, and have players becoming free agents. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and Tony Sipp. Keuchel and Gonzalez spent seven years in the Astros organization from going back-to-back 100 loss seasons, to becoming World Series Champions in 2017. I believe these guys will test free agency and see if they will get a well-qualifying offer. I respect any decision they make and very thankful for their time as a Houston Astro. Charlie Morton has had thoughts on considering retiring from baseball to spend time with his family, but a part of him still wants to play this game. He would like to stay in Houston if he decides not to retire. Brian McCann is an All-Star catcher, but he’s missed almost half the season with an injury and has dealt with some injuries in the past years with Houston. I don’t see the Astros resigning Evan Gattis back since Tyler White has shown the organization that he can replace his role, by having a strong second half of the season.

The Houston Astros have two starting pitchers in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Now, we’re looking for three more starters to fill in the 5-man starting rotation. During the 2018 season, the Astros brought up prospects: Josh James and Framber Valdez, who did not disappoint this year. Collin McHugh was a former starting pitcher in the 2015 season, who was 2nd in Wins in the AL with 19, and behind Keuchel with 20 wins. He could be a strong candidate to get back on the starting rotation.

The Astros have a lot of great pitching prospects, such as Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin, but we could maybe see Whitley come up in the 2019 season. Although, we need one more power, hard-throwing starting, and relief pitcher. It could be very interesting if Clayton Kershaw opts out of his 2-year remaining contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and become a free agent. If this happens, Coshark has the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros as co-favorites to sign him. Why the Rangers you may ask? Well, Kershaw is from Texas for one, the other point is he’s from Dallas, which is close to Arlington where the Rangers play. Since he’s a Texas native, he would like to play in his home state and be closer back home with his family. Nathan Eovaldi would also be a good acquisition for the Astros. With his hard-throwing fastball and nasty slider, the Alvin native could help the Astros by being a powerful 3rd starter in the rotation. Think about it Verlander, Cole, Eovaldi… that’s a scary hard-throwing rotation going into the postseason. Relief pitchers, we need a big-time lefty reliever! Zach Britton would probably be the Astros top target since Tony Sipp is gone, the Astros would need to get a left-handed pitcher for the lefty on lefty matchup in the bullpen.

We all know Max Stassi helped us this 2018 season with Brian McCann being hurt half the season, but he’s not worthy of being a starting catcher. Free agent players like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos would be great acquisitions because they are excellent defenders behind the plate and could provide a big bat in that deadly lineup they have right now. On the other hand, the Astros could trade for J.T. Realmuto. However, Derek Jeter is not easy to negotiate with. He wants our top prospects, like Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, but that won’t happen with Jeff Luhnow in office. Some trade bait could be Corbin Martin, Josh James, Yordan Alvarez, or even Derek Fisher. Don’t be surprised though if we give away good top prospects for J.T.

Nelson Cruz is a big name on that free agent list. Even though the veteran is 40 years old, he’s missing one thing: A World Series Ring! He had multiple chances with the Texas Rangers in 2011 and 2012, when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but came up short. Coming into his 14th year in the big leagues, I believe he would be looking for a championship contending team. Houston is in need of a big stick in that 4-6 hole in the lineup, with Minute Maid Park being 315 ft. in left field and 326 ft. in right field, the “Boomstick” could make a big boom at Minute Maid Park.

Can Kyle Tucker come back in 2019 and show the Astros he has potential to become their next superstar? Before the 2018 Spring Training Season, all eyes weren’t on Bregman, Springer, or Altuve; it was on the #1 top prospect in the Houston Astros Farm System: Kyle Tucker! The 21-year-old showed much talent coming into the 2018 Spring Training. Everyone on the team called him “Ted,” because they compared him to the great Ted Williams. The whole Astros organization has big expectations for Kyle Tucker, that he would become the missing piece in that deep, high flying outfield.

When he made his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox, he had gone 1-4 with a single and three strikeouts. That was just the start for Kyle. Ending the season with 64 at-bats, he batted with a whopping .141 batting average, nine hits, and 4 Runs Batted In. Not a great start, but he’s a rookie and got his feet wet in the Big Leagues. When the season ended, the Astros held a press conference with Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch.

There was a question about Kyle Tucker progress, and Luhnow stated “We’re going to give him a shot, but we're just not going to hand it to him. We’re hoping he takes it.” It’s understandable though that Tucker didn’t look great in 2018, but he would look to bounce back in 2019 with a chance to be on the Houston Astros 2019 Regular Season Roster.

The 2018 Houston Astros is one of the best teams in Franchise History. They had the best starting rotation and bullpen in the MLB. They have the most wins in franchise history and won back-to-back AL West Division Champs. So now what? Well, let’s strap up for the 2019 season, and move on to the next one!

Top 5 Houston Astros Prospects

The next wave of Astros prospects are around the corner.

The offseason is here, and it’s time to start looking ahead. With the Astros inevitably making moves and all the free agents this year, we have to assume this team will love slightly different next season. However, it’s also time to look at some of the weapons the Astros have in their minor league programs.

Forrest Fire

It’s no secret the Astros have the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, Forrest Whitley. Teams have had their eye on him for a while now for potential trades, but Jeff Lunhow as said he’s not for sale multiple times. So, you have to wonder if this year is the year we get to see Whitley bring his talents to the juice box. Especially with the caliber of a rotation that Houston has, not to mention the bullpen. It’s going to be very interesting to see how and when Forrest gets added to this five-man tandem.

Tuck and Roll

Kyle Tucker is another highly sought-after prospect that the Astros have in their back pocket. Now he actually made his MLB Debut in the 2018 season, and some would say he had a somewhat disappointing season. It was clear Tucker wasn’t ready for the intensity of “The Show,” and he was sent back down the minors where he flourished. One had to hope that Tucker will make his return in the 2019 season and hopefully with better results.

1st Base Potential

Yordan Alvarez is a slugging first baseman, who recently earned a promotion to triple-A. While he’s spent some time in the outfield, his lack of mobility should keep him to a 1B/DH role in the Majors. He’s hit for both power and average in the minors, but he’ll likely see his batting average dip when he enters the major league level. Regardless, there are high hopes for a player his caliber.

Beer Time

Seth Beer is an early draft pick for the Astros this year. He has put up some impressive numbers early on in his career, but he’s also been beating up on mostly younger competition. There is enormous potential for him, especially after his college performance but a lot has remained to be seen. All eyes will be on this top prospect in the coming season.

Redemption shot

Cionel Perez is another top prospect who made his MLB debut last season. Again, he wasn’t bad, but it’s clear he needed grooming. With more work with Brent Strom, I’m certain he’ll be a threat in the bullpen. He has a feel for pitching and does an impressive job of commanding his four-pitch mix. His fastball can reach mid 90’s which is always good to see, but he’ll need to switch it up to get those K’s where he wants them.

In conclusion, the Astros have some potential stars in their minor league programs, and it will be very interesting to see how they come into play this season. Will the unstoppable pitching of Whitley bring this pitching rotation to another level? Will Tucker redeem himself in the bigs in 2019? Only time will tell, but everyone will be watching in anticipation for this championship quality team to do very wonderful things and hopefully make another run at the title.

Source: Fangraphs.com

Astros still have an A.J. Reed decision to make

Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So, is the conundrum of Astros first baseman AJ Reed, the power-hitting former second round pick by the organization in 2013. 

While much of the current collection of Astros MiLB followers (correctly) heap praise on the Kyle Tucker’s, Yordan Alvarez’s, and Seth Beer’s in the system, they simultaneously seem to have moved on from one of the most productive hitters in all of the minor leagues over the last few years. 

Consider these statistics and MiLB accomplishments from the big Kentuckian:

  • Career .288 hitter in the minors with 123 homers and 443 RBI to go along with a .926 OPS. 
  • The only two time winner of the Bauman Award, given to the player that leads all of the minor leagues in home runs (2015, 2017). 
  • Was the 2015 MiLB.com Offensive Player of the Year after leading all of the minors in RBI (127), total bases (320), and all full-season players in slugging percentage (.612) and OPS (1.044). He also scored 113 runs, hit 34 homers, drew 86 walks, hit 30 doubles, and batted .340 across two levels. 
  • Named the 2018 MVP for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after hitting 28 homers and leading Triple-A with 108 RBI. 
  • In 523 games and 1,971 at-bats, Reed has a career slugging percentage of .547 to go along with a career OBP of .378. 

So, what to do with the 6’4”, 230lb, power hitter? In a normal world, a player with his combination of power and hitting ability, and the credentials to back it up, would be considered an important part of an organization’s future. So, why is AJ Reed the Russia of the Astros organization? Let’s take a closer look. 

THE RIDDLE

Reed, for all of his minor league accomplishments, has had little success at the big league level. In 131 career at-bats with the Astros, Reed has an abysmal slash line of .153/.255/.244, with a staggering 50 strikeouts. In his defense, consistent playing time and opportunities have been lacking. 

There is, of course, the eye test, and with visual evidence we can surmise that Reed’s bat looks slow, he’s unable to handle big-league fastballs, and is lost when down in the count and resorting to guessing what is being thrown at him. 

So, what do you call a power hitting left-handed bat with little to no idea at the plate? 

THE MYSTERY 

Let’s be fair here. As mentioned above, Reed hasn’t been given the consistent playing needed for any young hitter to adapt to the superior MLB stuff that pitchers at this level possess. So, there remains a mystery as to what Reed actually may or may not be able to accomplish should he get, say, 300-400 at-bats in Houston. 

Clearly, the MiLB track record is there. Reed’s natural raw power allows for the lefty to maintain a consistent swing path and allows him to concentrate on just barreling up the baseball and to let his strength do the rest. And, despite the alarming strike out rate, he does have a good idea of the zone and will draw his share of walks. To boot, Reed has improved defensively and the once college pitcher has an excellent arm for the first base position. 

Power hitters typically have the biggest adjustments to make as they jump to the big leagues. The aforementioned Chris Davis—-before becoming the worst hitter in recent memory—-needed the at-bats at the big league level before blossoming into one of the most feared hitters in baseball. The question for Reed, as well as the Astros front office, is can he be afforded the time to develop on a team that is in championship mode with little room to allow a project to develop? And, lastly, do we need to cut ties too soon on potentially a left handed version of JD Martinez?

THE ENIGMA

And here we are, left with the decision of just what to do with the big guy. Reed is on the Astros 40-man roster, which means, barring an outright release, he will be able to continue his journey with the Astros organization. But where, exactly, would Reed best be able to stake his claim  to the active 25-man roster? 

Tyler White, JD Davis, and the incumbent Yuli Gurriel, all appear to have the favor of the Astros organization over Reed. Not to mention, Alvarez and Beer seemingly poised to supplant Reed as an option as well. Also, with news that the Astros are serious players for Nelson Cruz to fill the DH spot, Reed is left with “hoping” for injuries or trades in order to leapfrog himself into consideration as a legitimate big leaguer. 

Let’s look at Reed, as the enigma in the system and what Luhnow and company must be thinking in regards to the slugger. 

Could Reed be part of a package in a trade scenario? Probably not, unfortunately. While Reed has the MiLB track record, other teams also realize that Reed has serious question marks and that the Astros have little leverage in offering Reed as a prospect in a trade. 

Could Reed be a legitimate option for the Astros to fill the DH spot in 2019? Maybe. But, again, he would need many things to fall into place for that to happen. Certainly he could be called up in a pinch, but the reality remains that if the club really had confidence in him, he would have been up several times in 2018. 

Could Reed one day haunt Luhnow in the same way JD Martinez does today? A resounding affirmative to this one. Reed’s raw power is hard to come by, and with a minor league history of being able to hit for power and average, Reed has the untapped potential to carry that success to the highest level. It just may come in a different uniform and given an extended look by a rebuilding team. 

Simply put, I’m not sure anyone following Reed’s career path can say what he is, who he is, or what he will be. We just don’t know what we don’t know in regards to Reed. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, he’ll likely spend the majority of his time in Round Rock, hit around .275, hit close to 30 home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and have nowhere to advance to. 

Sources: MiLB.com; thebaseballcube.com

Astros Rumors: Trade talk with the Mariners about a James Paxton trade?

The Houston Astros have three openings in the starting rotation following Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton hitting free agency and Lance McCullers having Tommy John surgery. While they haven’t ruled out bringing Keuchel or Morton back, they could get better deals elsewhere. Something that we have seen in the Jeff Luhnow era is that they don’t like offering pitchers multi-year deals. They could have extended Keuchel after the 2015 season, but instead, they are letting him test the free agent market.

After reaching a franchise record 103 wins in 2018, the Astros realized how important it is to have a strong rotation. This could lead to them looking at free agent starting pitchers, but they could also explore the trade market. With a strong farm system, we have seen Luhnow fulfill his promise to use prospects to improve the MLB roster. He added Justin Verlander in 2017 and Gerrit Cole in 2018; both are in the final year of their current deals.

The Astros should begin to shift their focus to extending Verlander and Cole, but they need a backup plan. With the previous trades, the Astros appear to be comfortable with trading for a starter with two years of control remaining. Robbie Ray could be a target, but another name has surfaced from an unlikely source. This starter has pitched well in his career versus the Astros and are a division foe.

No, not Cole Hamels, he was traded to the Cubs last year. It seems that whenever James Paxton pitches versus the Astros, he is on the top of his game. According to Baseball-Reference, in 12 starts versus the Astros, Paxton has a 7-2 record with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 69 hitters in 71 2/3 innings. He also fits the mold of a Verlander and Cole as a workhorse starter who got 208 strikeouts last year.

Astros reportedly had a trade shot down for Bryce Harper

A few minutes ago, my jaw just dropped to the floor. On my phone was a notification that said the Astros had a blockbuster deal in place at the non-waiver trade deadline. It was a Tweet from Ken Rosenthal, who suggested that the Astros had a deal for a stud outfielder from the Washington Nationals. But similar to what happened in 2017 with the Orioles, the trade was nixed by ownership.

By now you have seen the Tweet that said the Astros had a deal in place to acquire Bryce Harper, but the Nationals' ownership group canceled the deal. That could have been the deal that could have given the Astros the extra hitting to possibly beat the Red Sox in the ALCS. On Talking Stros, we talked about how the Astros were trying to make a blockbuster deal. Now we know...

This was an instance of the Nationals thinking about their pocketbooks and not what was best for the team. They knew that if they traded Harper, people would have stopped coming to games with the move signaling a rebuild. Rosenthal hinted (subscription required) that they also feared that trading him would have made it less likely that he would re-sign. However, the writing was on the wall that he was going to leave.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 3

Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?

Now that we have established who is likely to be leaving the next step will be to assess who will be on the 40-man roster and does the roster address the holes left behind by the players that leave? As we do this we need to consider the Rule 5 draft.

The details of the Rule 5 Draft are available from the Queen of Astros Minor Leagues – Jayne Hansen here

https://whattheheckbobby.blogspot.com/2018/09/2018-rule-5-draft-primer-and-eligible.html

An Rule 5 eligible player is...

1) Anyone who signed prior to the conclusion of the 2014 season.

2) Any player who was 19-years-old at the time of signing after the end of the 2014 season or prior to the conclusion of the 2015 season.

3) Most 2015 drafted college players.

4) Any high school players drafted in 2015 will wait one more year.

What this means is certain minor leaguers whose name you know can be drafted away from the Astros if they are not added to the 40-man roster. The number of players the Astros will want to add from the 2014-2015 drafts partially explains their willingness to let the free agents previously discussed to walk.

On 11/2/18, the Astros signed Chris Herrmann in a classic quiet Jeff Luhnow increase your options and low risk- high potential reward type of move. His name shows in green in the table above. This move will set up other potential bigger moves at catcher will discuss in later sections.

The following table shows what I believe will be the Rule 5 draft roster IF no Ramon Laureano type trades are made between now and 11/20/18 (the day Rule 5 rosters are set).

The players in red font are currently NOT on the 40-man roster and the number is the prospect ranking in the Astros system. This brings the roster to 38 which leaves limited room for Free Agent signings.

Larry 4.PNG

Also, the top prospects such as Whitley, Alvarez, Martin, Beer, and Bukauskas are not on the projected 40-man roster. It is highly possible at least one if not more of these players will be added to the roster in 2019. Before we move forward, it is critical to understand there are only one or two roster spots even available to add a free agent this offseason.

MLB Free Agents

Earlier we said Catcher, First Base, Left Field, and possibly one Starting Pitcher are the biggest needs this offseason.

Catcher- Currently the Astros have three internal options (with 2018 stats per Fangraphs and 2019 projections)

Larry 6.PNG

None of these options inspires confidence. Starting Catcher is a HUGE hole for the 2019 Astros. Any of these CAN be a backup for this team. What are the viable options for a starter?

Best Available via trade

Larry 5.PNG

The Astros fan base has clamored for Realmuto for a year now. He is salaried controlled for two more seasons. The Marlins have multiple needs. Using the same ranking system we did to evaluate the Astros roster earlier (10 is the top 3 teams at the position, and 1 is the bottom 3 at the position), this is how the Marlins rank and the potential tradeable assets from the Astros who could be offered.

Larry 7.PNG

To simplify the analysis here, the Steamer600 projection from Frangraphs.com projects a player into a full-time starter role and projects their full-season value. The Astros are highly unlikely to offer Tucker nor Whitley. However, you can see how many players the Astros MIGHT consider tradeable would be and upgrade for the Marlins in 2019; and as they develop, their projected WAR would also rise. What if the Astros offered Stubbs (1.4), Reed (-0.1), Alvarez (1.7), Bukauskas (1.2), and McCurry (0.2) for Realmuto (3.7)? Should the Astros give up that much for two guaranteed years of Realmuto?

Best Free Agent Options

There are likely three options for a free agent Catcher. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

LArry 8.PNG

This would indicate Grandal and Ramos are the best investments. I believe the Astros will sign one of these two rather quickly or they will get a more cost-effective contract with Maldonado (2 yr/$8MM total.) I believe the Astros will sign a catcher vs. trading for Realmuto.

As for the other positions of need, First Base and Left Field, I do not believe the Astros will sign a top Free Agent, at least not until February.

Next time, we will address what some of the options are at Starting Pitching now with McCullers out all 2019.

Check out the other parts of the series below.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitration, and qualifying offers

In some ways, this article could come before the 2019 roster projection one. In either case, at the end of the 2018 season, the Astros front office will have free agents leaving with qualifying offers to offer, contract options to decide, and arbitration decisions to make.

The following players (with 2018 salaries) are now Free Agents, and some will receive a qualifying offer ($17.9MM for one year) to stay for one more year:

- Dallas Keuchel ($13.2MM)

- Charlie Morton ($7MM)

- Marwin Gonzalez ($5.12MM)

- Evan Gattis ($6.7MM)- not offered

- Tony Sipp ($6MM)- not offered

- Martin Maldonado ($3.9MM)- not offered. Potential to resign as a Free Agent

The total 2018 salary of these players was $41.92MM. This will come off the books.

Per MLB.com regarding qualifying offers

If the team that loses the player did not receive revenue sharing and did not exceed the luxury-tax salary threshold the previous season, its compensatory pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B (usually about the 75-80 picks). The value of the player's contract doesn't matter in this case. The 12 clubs that fall into this category are the Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees.

This would mean the Astros are likely to add one additional draft pick in the 75-80 pick range.

The Astros front office also has to decide whether to exercise options on the following contacts (these are complete):

- Brian McCann ($11.5MM net)- $15MM vesting option did not vest and the team did not pick up the option. He is now also a Free Agent. There was no way the Astros would retain McCann at the $15MM contract price. Many believe McCann may want to return to the Atlanta Braves where he began.

- Will Harris ($2.8MM)- $5.5MM team option not exercised but still eligible to be offered arbitration and retained.

McCann’s $11.5MM of 2018 salaries will come off the books. We will hold Harris’s contract for the arbitration section.

The following players are eligible for Arbitration and their projected arbitration amounts per rosterresource.com (2018 salary)

- Gerrit Cole- $13.1MM ($6.75MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Roberto Osuna- $6.5MM ($5.3MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Colin McHugh- $5.4MM ($5.0MM)- offered

- Carlos Correa- $5.1MM ($1.0MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Lance McCullers- $4.6MM ($2.45MM)- offered

- Will Harris- $3.6MM ($2.8MM)- might not be offered due to roster space

- Ryan Pressly- $3.1MM ($1.6MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Brad Peacock- $2.9MM ($2.44MM)- offered

- Jake Marisnick- $2.4MM ($1.9MM)- probably offered

- Chris Devenski- $1.4MM ($0.6MM)- probably offered

Essentially, I am assuming all of these players, except Harris, will be offered arbitration. The total 2018 salary here was $29.84MM. The projected 2019 salaries are $44.5MM.

Therefore, after all of these moves the

- Astros net losses are Keuchel, Gonzalez, Morton, Gattis, Sipp, Maldonado, Harris, and McCann

- The total salary off the books is $83.26MM

- The total arbitration expenses for 2019 is $44.5MM

Next, we will start the process of managing the 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 draft.

Read Part 1 here.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.)

I am no different. In fact, the boys at “Talking Stros” know me as LarrytheGM because this is my time of the year where I have the plan to restore the Astros to the rightful place atop the baseball world.

This year, rather than fill your Twitter feed with ideas, we will submit them for the record here at Houston Preeminence. Hopefully, this will serve as your roadmap and guide until pitchers and catchers report in February. Here, I am released from the tyranny of 280 characters, so buckle in for deep analysis here.

My passion is our team- the Astros, so let us take this systematic approach to go through the decisions already made and the decisions ahead:

  1. Review the strengths and relative weaknesses of this roster and what are the priorities for an upgrade
    1. Looking backward at 2018
    2. Projecting forward in 2019
  2. Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitrations, qualifying offers
  3. Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?
  4. MLB Free Agents
    1. What are the biggest needs?
    2. Who can the Astros REALISTICALLY resign
    3. Who the Astros should target to sign and why
  5. Payroll Management- what does the likely payroll project to grow to over the next 3-4 years
  6. What does the LarrytheGM Astros 2019 roster look like
    1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this 2019 roster
    2. What are the key contingencies to reinforce the potential weaknesses
  7. Predictions for LarrytheGM 2019 Astros

The following sections will serve as your roadmap to the offseason and help you understand why the Astros are doing what they are doing.

This information is separated into two sections. Sections 1-4 are below. Sections 5-7 will be presented next week.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2018 roster

What if we could evaluate the Astros roster position by position to get OBJECTIVELY a sense of where the roster was strongest and weakest? My method evaluates the wRC+ each team accumulated at that position and rank that relative to the other teams in MLB. To do this, I used the Fangraphs.com output of team statistics by position in ranking to the other 30 teams. Players are sorted into their primary position for this analysis. For example, the Astros had 86 wRC+ from the catchers in 2018, and this was ranked 14th in the MLB.

Methodology note:

I will address a potential flaw in this analysis. The wRC+ stat does not account for the effect of defense on the value of payers at a position. I would prefer to use WAR and I will in the forward-looking 2019 analysis. WAR is a counting stat and the way Fangraphs sorts the data the Astros actually would rank low at Shortstop because the games Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman played at SS are counted into their primary positions. Given this data sorting, I have chosen to use wRC+ to look back at 2018 and WAR for projecting 2019.

To simplify the value of each position, I took the ranking (14th for a catcher in the example) and reframed on a rating scale of 1 to 10 as such:

Larry 1.png

Therefore, the catching position would be scaled a 6. The table illustrates this wRC+ methodology for each position and for pitching based on ERA. For context, one can compare the Astros with the other LCS teams here, and you can see the 2018 Astros compare very favorably.

Larry 2.png

What is interesting to note is that the Astros had no REAL weaknesses. The lowest rating score is Left Field at 5. The other LCS teams all had at least one position that ranked in the bottom 3 in the MLB. This balance for the Astros helped make them an EXCELLENT regular season team and reflects the depth they had at all positions.

However, as we project forward to decide how to improve the team for 2019, this balance makes it somewhat challenging to decide what areas must be addressed first. If every position is average or above, how you take the average and make them better everywhere? THIS is the challenge the 2018 roster would provide us if we assumed EVERYONE would return for 2019. Since that will not happen, the next step is to project the relative performance by position in 2019 given who is committed to the roster currently.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the current projected 2019 roster

We will address the likely roster decisions in the next article, but for this analysis, we will utilize the projected Depth Chart rosters (under the team's tab) in the Fangraphs.com. These projections are very much fluid as teams make options decisions and either sign or release players. A similar ranking methodology will be deployed but using the projected WAR as the basis.

Larry 3.PNG

This analysis highlights that Catcher, First Base, and Left Field are the positions that project to lag at average or below. Again, the Astros roster projects to have no positions that are bottom of the league weaknesses. I am not positive I believe that.

Catcher- Projected currently as Stassi and Stubbs (backup). It is likely that the Astros will do SOMETHING to replace McCann. As it is today, I would consider the Astros catchers to be at or near the bottom of the MLB. This is a key priority for this offseason.

First Base- Projected as Gurriel and White (backup). As Gurriel ages his contract also contracts ($10MM in 2019 and $8MM in 2020). The playing time between Gurriel vs. White at 1B may shift more to White especially if Gurriel deploys more as a utility backup. More on that later.

Left Field- Projected as Kemp and Tucker (backup). I believe Kyle Tucker starts during most of 2019 to prove he is the top prospect and future star the Astros hope he is. Therefore, I expect the roles to be reversed here with Kemp playing a utility outfielder role or possibly packaged in a trade.

Almost shockingly, the Fangraphs projection still frames the Astros Starting Pitching (without Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers for about half the year) as the number TWO starting pitching staff. The projected staff includes Verlander, Cole, James, McCullers, Peacock, Valdez, Whitley, Bukauskas, and Rodgers. Clearly, they believe Josh James will be given every opportunity to succeed. Interestingly, McHugh in this projection lists still as a Relief Pitcher. I expect that will change. I believe the Astros will get at least one experienced pitcher to add to this group and the last Starting Pitcher will come from the list of the last 5 pitchers listed.

With the look back at 2018 complete and understanding what some project for 2019 in mind, let’s look at the overall likely roster changes for 2019.

Check back for part 2 soon.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs***

Astros Rumors: Are they looking at catcher Yasmani Grandal?

Could the Astros land one of the top catching free agents this offseason?

As of right now, the Astros catcher for the 2019 season would be Max Stassi. He would be backed up by either Chris Hermann or Garrett Stubbs. Even though Stubbs is one of the Astros top 30 prospects, he has no MLB experience but could win the job with a hot spring training. However, the Astros are not really in a position to give kids a chance to play unless they have no other options.

When you are competing for a championship, you need to add to the depth of the roster. This is the problem; they have no proven option in the system at the moment. They have traded away Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers over the past three seasons. They were both labeled catchers of the future, but so was Stassi at one point.

Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are now free agents. The Astros declined the 15 million dollar option on McCann after an injury-riddled season. With that move, they have decided to move on from McCann, but they would be interested in retaining Maldonado for the right deal. Until then, they will look what’s on the catching market and monitor the J.T. Realmuto market.

One intriguing name who the Astros could be looking at is Yasmani Grandal. Yes, the Dodgers catcher. The same one whom Dodgers fans have soured on with his hitting and defense in the World Series. Grandal was offered a qualifying offer worth about $17.9 million. Should he decline and sign with another team, that team would have to sacrifice a draft pick. This is something that the Astros don’t like to do, give up draft picks.

Astros: Lance McCullers Officially has Tommy John Surgery

We finally get the news that we have been dreading since Lance McCullers left that game with what was called a strained forearm. According to Chandler Rome, McCullers had Tommy John surgery today, meaning he would miss the entire 2019 season. This was a highly rumored, so this doesn't come as a shocker. We have been discussing this on Talking Stros since the final out of the ALCS.

We had Rome on our show Sunday, an he mentioned that the Astros don't report surgeries until after it happens. This confirms that belief, and this gives Jeff Luhnow some extra work to do this offseason. Last year, McCullers had a 10-6 record with a 3.86 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 128 1/3 via Baseball-Reference. While he missed a significant chunk of time towards the end of 2018, that is a significant loss for the Astros.

McCullers along with the possible departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, opens a hole in the rotation. This may make it more likely that they re-sign Keuchel and/or Morton. As Rome said on Talking Stros, fans will miss Keuchel's arm in the rotation. With high hopes, the Astros will likely add another arm.

Look for someone like Patrick Corbin to be a possible target, but another team might outbid the Astros. They could also look to make a trade for Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks in a trade similar to the Gerrit Cole trade. They will look to make a splash to solidify the rotation after the starting pitchers carried the team last year.

Don't forget about the in-house candidates in Collin McHugh, Framber Valdez, Josh James, and possibly Forrest Whitley. Luhnow even mentioned that McHugh is likely to join the rotation. This void left by McCullers is a big deal that the Astros will now have to address this offseason. Will dig deeper in future posts, but the Astros will play without McCullers in 2019.

Astros: We know a little about Lance McCullers’ injury

The Houston Astros have been really quiet about the status of Lance McCullers so far this offseason.

On Talking Stros, we have been addressing the possibility of him missing the entire 2019 season. The rumors were that Lance McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL in the playoffs. If that was the case, it was an odd decision, but also shows how valuable McCullers is. No matter if he had surgery right after the Astros were eliminated or now, he would still likely miss the season.

We had Chandler Rome on this week’s Talking Stros and he said that the Astros have a weird policy. They don’t announce that a player is having surgery until it is over. Rome also said that McCullers was a little coy when he was asked about his elbow.

That could be a Jeff Luhnow thing, especially with news that could lead to a search for a starting pitcher. Knowing that you are losing possibly Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, losing McCullers could lead to a perception of desperation to make a trade. Maybe that is why we didn’t hear of any official announcements.

Rome told us on the show that once the GM Meetings began, Luhnow could no longer dodge the issue. He was right, as Luhnow offered up something yesterday. Via Rome, Luhnow finally admitted that there was an issue about McCullers’ elbow. But he then gave a maybe, maybe not answer.

Via Rome, McCullers “has been seen by some doctors and I think we’re going to know more shortly.” When asked if he will pitch next year, he replied, "If he has surgery, no. If he doesn't, yes,"

So, we are back at square one. We have confirmed that there is an injury, but don’t know if it’s Tommy John surgery. Now, Luhnow has to alter his offseason plans for the rotation, if he has surgery that is. Instead of two openings in the rotation, they could have three of them.

They could always re-sign Keuchel or Morton, but the later will want a longer contract. They can sign or trade for someone outside the organization, but it’s hard to replace what McCullers offers. You have Collin McHugh who could move back to the rotation. Youngsters such as Framber Valdez, Josh James, and Forrest Whitley could fill in the back of the rotation.

We still continue to wait for word on McCullers’ elbow. This announcement could change the focus this offseason. Anytime you hear about elbow injuries to pitchers, it makes you worried.

Is It an Excuse to Say the Astros Lost Because of Injuries?

The Astros lost. Wow, that hurts to say.

Don’t you just wish they could’ve been winners forever? How great of a feeling was it for your favorite hometown team to finally be on top of the world? Before the Astros won, the last Houston championship was twenty-one years prior, by the Rockets. Many fans weren’t even breathing the last time Houston tasted gold.

The Astros had their shot to do something that hasn’t been done in 18 years, go back to back. However, they were halted in their history-chasing tracks by a Red-Sox team that frankly was a lot better than the Astros were, in this series. However, you’d think the series should have been a lot more even. On paper the Stros’ were the better team simply due to their pitching, so what happened?

You can say whatever you want to help you cope with getting knocked out of the playoffs, but the fact is, Boston played better. No one will debate that. However, one argument that has been on repeat is, “if Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa had been fully healthy, would the series have gone differently?” It’s not a far-fetched question. Altuve’ and Correa are the two rocks in the middle of the Astros lineup. They’re the anchors, the heavy hitters, the cornerstones, one of the best two-men tandems in the game today, but had they been fully healed from injuries, would it have made a difference?

In the American League Championship series, the Astros batted a measly .219 as a team, while Boston hit .233. Not that much of a difference, right? Let’s dive a little deeper. With runners on, the Astros batted .190. That’s abysmal. The Red-Sox batted .257. With runners on base with two outs, the Astros batted .244. The Red-Sox batted .303. They came up in clutch situations and performed. The Astros did not.

With runners in scoring position and two outs, the Red-Sox batted an astonishing .389. Houston batted .280. The Sox took care of most of their offensive opportunities while the Astros just couldn’t cash in. Would Altuve or Carlos have made a difference? Possibly. However, I doubt it would’ve been enough to overcome an offensive unit that seemed to grab you by the throat and feast, every time they smelled blood in the water.

Going into the series everyone thought the Astros pitching would’ve propelled them past the Sox, but in this crazy world of baseball, it was the exact opposite. The Red-Sox starters had an earned run average of 4.38, and the Astros had an earned run average of 5.53. Neither are great numbers, but let’s dive deeper one more time. The Red-Sox bullpen had an earned run average of 3.54, and the Astros, even in their pen that had been so dominant all season, had an earned run average of 5.79. Could even two phenomenal players like Correa and Altuve being 100% make up that much of a difference in this series?

Carlos Correa seemed to be turning a corner, as he was connecting with the ball for the first time in what seemed like an extremely long time. However, the power numbers still weren’t there, so it didn’t matter much. Altuve, always being the little engine that can, played his heart out even on a bum knee. Who knows? Maybe with the heart of your lineup healthy, it might have energized the entire offense. Momentum is a key factor in any playoff series, and without Altuve and Correa, there just seemed to be none.

Could it have gone differently? Certainly. However, even with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve at full capacity, the bullpen would have to have been on par. It wasn’t. The starting pitching would have had to have been stellar like it had been all season. It wasn’t. What we’re left with is a lot of questions, and disappointment, and sad memories of how the Astros were shut down in five games. It should have gone better, but baseball has a way of kicking you in your butt. Injuries played a large part, sure. Many of our hometown heroes were beaten up. However, you can’t put all the fault on it and ignore the obvious that Boston was the better team. Congratulations to the Red Sox, and hopefully we see you right back in October, next year.

**All stats courtesy of Astros.com**

Dallas Keuchel Shares his Opinion on the Astros Qualifying Offers

Dallas Keuchel is surprised that he was the only Astros player extended a qualifying offer.

The Houston Astros have made their final decisions on whom they offered qualifying offers to before last Friday's deadline. A qualifying offer is similar to a franchise tag in the NFL, a one year deal for $17.9 million. The team can extend a qualifying offer to the player who can either accept or decline the offer. If he accepts, the player would be awarded the one year deal, but they can still negotiate an extension. If the player declines, he is free to sign anywhere.

The player can sign anywhere, but the team extending the qualifying offer would receive a compensation pick should that player sign elsewhere. There lies the problem. Teams are hesitant to sign players knowing that they will have to give up a pick. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle to find a team. With the way the Astros value draft picks, you would think that they would extend their three eligible players the qualifying offers.

Instead, the Astros only extend a qualifying offer to Dallas Keuchel and not Marwin Gonzalez and Charlie Morton. The qualifying offer is a gamble because $17.9 million is a large number, so they look at it as a player by player basis. Last year, Keuchel made $13.5 million through arbitration. His projected market value is more than $20 million per season via Sportrac, so if he accepts the offer, the Astros will get a great deal.

Astros: 434 Days Later After the Storm

A look at what 2017 meant for Astros fans after Hurricane Harvey.

At the time of this writing, it’s been exactly 434 days since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and brought with it the heavy rains and heavier hearts. It’s also been 365 days since the Houston Astros raised the commissioner’s trophy, too. I would venture to say if you’re a baseball fan and lived in Houston in late August of 2017, both of those days were pretty memorable. Although separate events, they can most assuredly be thought of in unison for the rest of our lives. This piece you’re reading here is about that time. Moreover, it’s not because we need a constant reminder of the rain and the pain, but because as we sit here a year removed from it all, in it lays a story of identity.

When Hurricane Harvey planted itself on top of the city last Fall, it poured more rain onto our makeshift city of asphalt than any before it; 60.5”. That’s an inch less than the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate. It flooded over 200,000 homes. It destroyed almost a million cars. It cost over $125 billion worth of damage. Yah, with a “B.” The flooding that covered the state was the size of New Jersey. It was historically, one of the worst hurricanes in history. That is to say; it was going to take an equally historic moment in the lives of affected Houstonians everywhere to gain some sort of healing from it all.

Enter, the Houston Astros.

As these Astros approached the postseason in 2017, they did so with hearts burdened from a city under water. They were forced to play a home series in Florida because the city was still reeling with devastation. Moreover, because the Texas Rangers wouldn’t swap a home & home. However, the team, as somber as they were in returning, took on an identity. They became healers. After the hurricane, the team went 20-8 in September as the hottest team in baseball, and finished the year with 101 wins; good for third in the American League.

They were healthy, they were hot, and they realized pretty quickly they were playing for a community that was desperate for a good story. While the Astros were playing their games in September, homes were still under water. While the Astros were tearing up opposing pitchers on the road, Houstonians were tearing off drywall back home. While the Astros were running around the bases, Houstonians were running around the city registering for FEMA aid packages and making stops at church triage centers. As the Astros were pouring champagne down each other’s backs for their first division title in over a decade, tears were pouring down the faces of thousands and thousands of Houstonians whose homes were classified as “uninsurable” and were damaged beyond repair.

However, then October came.

As the Astros sewed on their, “Houston Strong” patches, there was a “we need this” kind of expectation for the team. Because we did. The city had been through so much. We had been slugged in the face. A big fat black eye that was going to take years to recover from. Our homes destroyed. Entire families trapped in houses only to never get out. Baseball seemed so far off, but it wasn’t. The city needed the true character of the city to emerge from below the flooded streets. The city needed someone in a position of opportunity and authority to show the world who we really were. We needed people to see somehow what was inside the hearts of over 5 million people. All eyes were on Houston; how would we respond? How would they react?

Well…did they ever. Altuve homered three times in Game 1. Bregman launched balls over The Monster. Off belly-button Chris Sale. Justin Verlander went 4-0 heading into the World Series, and Lance McCullers threw 157 straight curveballs against the Yankees (actually it was 24). Marwin hit the most clutch home run in Astros history off Kenley Jenson, Derek Fisher scored the 13th and winning run in the best playoff game ever played during game 5, and George Springer catapulted baseballs into the deep California sky in Game 7.

Just like that, as Seager grounded the last ball of 2017 to the league MVP at second base, the Astros became a group of healers. They took on the heartache of millions of people and if only for a moment, turned it into hope; into tears of joy.

It’s been a full year.

I can still feel the sensation of seeing Yuli’s hands raise to his hands in disbelief. He couldn’t believe they did it. None of us could. None of us could believe that 25 guys could spend three weeks in the cold Fall of South Texas, of Boston, of Southern California and give us hope from a round white ball and brown wooden bat. None of us could believe that after five feet of rain leveled the city, a five-foot something Venezuelan righty could lead a team from disparity to glory. From 100 loses to 100 wins. But he did. Moreover, we will never forget it. The 2017 Astros won the division. They won the pennant. Moreover, they won the World Series. But raising the trophy on Fire Engine 69 meant only one thing to them, and to the city of Houston: we won’t be backed into a corner, we won’t be beat and we will rise up from the challenges that face us and come together as a community to overcome anything that could possibly come our way.

Forrest Whitley: The Next Evolution of Astro Pitching

The sting of losing in the postseason still seems fresh, the offseason is now upon us.

The Houston Astros have some work to do if they are to challenge the new champion Boston Red Sox for the title next season. With free agency in full swing, general manager Jeff Lunhow is sure to work the phones to see what’s available, while also trying to retain some of his own free agents. While its no secret that everyone loves the big sexy free agent to walk through their clubhouse doors, the best addition is homegrown talent.

Thanks to the great work by the Astros front office, and scouting department, the answer to some of the offseason questions might be on the way to a ‘Juice Box’ near you. His name is Forrest Whitley. So, to quote the great film G.I. Jane, “Are you ready for the next evolution!”

Forrest Whitley is not only the Astros top prospect. He is the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. There are some that compared him coming out of high school to the very successful pitcher that wears the number 35 for your Houston Astros. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is Justin Verlander. The kid is a mountain, standing six foot seven inches tall. That’s a very intimidating dude standing on the bump coming at you with a serious arsenal of pitches including an above average fastball that can touch 98.

He backs that up with a really sharp curveball that will only get better once the spin rate masters in Houston get their hands on him. He completes his repertoire of pitches with a slider with great movement off the plate and a change that really hasn’t been seen too much because quite frankly he hasn’t needed it. Now that you have the tale of the tape lets talk about how he is dominating the Arizona Fall League.

Going into the AFL Whitley was known as a big strikeout guy and had the numbers to back it. He did not disappoint in the desert heat striking out the first seven batters he faced in his first game. Over five games he would strike out 23 batters in 17 1/3 innings pitched. That effort earned him a place in the AFL fall stars game which is reserved for the top performers throughout the entire league.

This upcoming spring training will be huge for Forrest to see if the dominance he displayed in the minors and the Arizona Fall League can translate into big league success. For a team that could be without possibly three pieces of its rotation from last year, his arm will be a premium addition at a very inexpensive price. If he can make the team and be even half of what Justin Verlander is at his age, the Astros should be in a fantastic spot to make another run at a title.

Source: MLB.com

Market Street: Astros Free Agency Outlook

The foundation of the Houston Astros remains solid and intact heading into the 2019 offseason with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Lance McCullers all secured for another season at the “Juice Box.” However, this winter will be a bit different then it was following the franchise’s first ever World Series title. Jeff Lunhow has some key decisions to make and a few holes to fill on this roster before making another run towards October success.

Houston will have seven of its players from last year’s roster testing the free agent market in the upcoming months. Starting pitchers Dallas Kuechel and Charlie Morton, lefty reliever Tony Sipp, catchers Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, designated hitter Evan Gattis and utility superman Marwin Gonzalez.

In all likelihood, the Astros will let Sipp, McCann, Maldonado and Gattis walk and find employment elsewhere. Over the past few seasons, Sipp’s pitching has been up and down and is an expendable part of what is now a loaded bullpen. Gattis had some key moments, with his “lumberjack” look and power at the plate, but overall underproduced.

Maldonado, whom they acquired late in the season when McCann was going to miss some time, is among the best defensive backstops in the game. With a rough postseason behind the plate and quality catchers available the Astros could be looking for a player with a better bat to insert into the line-up.

Charlie Morton has expressed some interest in a possible return to Houston. However, he also stated that retirement is a legitimate option, as well as wanting to be closer to his family in the Northeast. His tenure as an Astro was successful, but he is now 35 and battled injuries most of his career before coming to the Astros. So if he were to return, it would be on a one year deal at a fair market price.

As for Dallas Kuechel, he looks to draw loads of interest on the market. The former Cy Young winner has struggled since winning the award, but the Southpaw out of the University of Arkansas finished off last season strong and will be seeking a long-term deal at a lofty price. I don’t see owner Jim Crane and Lunhow overpaying or wanting to invest in him long term, so the market for him may squeeze the Astros out of signing him. Not to mention, they gave him a qualifying offer so if he does sign elsewhere they will be compensated.

In my opinion, the toughest decision this offseason is Marwin Gonzalez. I have no doubt the Astros brass would love to have their versatile fielder back, but at what cost? A manager’s dream player, one that can be plugged into pretty much any position on the field (outside of pitcher and catcher) will be highly sought after and most likely overpaid regarding what he brings with his bat. Marwin was a clutch hitter the last two seasons, riding the momentous wave during the teams World Series run produced his best season to date. However, his numbers dwindled last season, and if the Astros enter a bidding war, is what he has done enough to warrant what might have to be paid to keep him?

So where does that leave A.J. Hinch and his roster going into free agency? Their biggest needs include an everyday catcher (assuming they don’t resign McCann or Maldonado), a middle infielder, a corner outfielder, and a starting pitcher. Like most teams, they will look to add depth at all levels of the organization. Here are the main areas they will be looking to lock down.

CATCHER

Big names that will most likely be considered are Johnathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Wieters and Nick Hundley. The pipeline at catcher is thin within the organization, and surely they will move to bring in an everyday starter, while Max Stassi serves as the primary back up. Lucroy (.241 AVG/4 HR/51 RBI/.617 OPS) has the best major league track record, while Ramos (.297 AVG/ 14 HR/53 RBI/.834 OPS) is considered to have the highest upside. When healthy, Wieters (.238 AVG/8 HR/30 RBI/.704 OBP) is a quality option, but he hasn’t been healthy. Grandal (.241 AVG/24 HR/68 RBI/.815 OPS) has developed into an All-Star caliber player, and Hundley (.241 AVG, 10 HR/31 RBI/.706 OPS) has become a reliable option as well.

MIDDLE INFIELDER

If Marwin Gonzalez signs with another team, the Astros are stranded without an experienced backup infielder. The recent injuries experienced by Altuve and Correa make this role more relevant of a need, and the options in free agency to this point are thin regarding quality. The best option available is Freddy Galvis (.248 AVG/13 HR/ 67 RBI/.680 OPS). His age falls in the more appealing side of 30 and has started showing some promise as a hitter. Jordy Mercer (.251 AVG/2 HR/ 6 RBI/.696 OPS) is coming off of a down year but has a track record of being a versatile utility man in the past. The market is then left with journeymen and guys who don’t play more than one side of the bag.

LEFT FIELD

The left field spot will likely be up for grabs heading into Spring Training. The highly revered youngster, Kyle Tucker, is being groomed for the role. However, unfortunately, during his time at the big league level last season, he showed very little. They may decide to keep him in AAA to start the season and refine his game a bit more and gain some confidence before calling him back up. Thus creating a huge need for a veteran, everyday guy to be a stop gap.

They have some options on possible one year guys, in the likes of Nick Markakis (.297 AVG, 14 HR, 93 RBI, .806 OPS), long-time Oriole Adam Jones (.281 AVG, 15 HR, 63 RBI, .732 OPS) and Carlos Gonzalez (.276 AVG, 16 HR, 64 RBI, .796 OPS). They will demand a bit of money but could be had on a one year deal. A cheaper option is out there as well, a guy like Melky Cabrera (.280 AVG, 6 HR, 39 RBI, .755 OPS) could make a great addition to the Astros.

STARTING PITCHER

With the likely departures of Kuechel and/or Morton, at least one spot in the rotation will need to be filled. Josh James and his 100+ MPH heat impressed last season enough to at least warrant a spot to start the 2019 season. Framber Valdez will get his chance to compete during spring training. Although Brady Rogers and Forrest Whitley are considered to be the future; they won’t be rushed up to the majors to start next year.

Since the Astros will be a legit contender again next year, they will most likely look for another veteran arm to add to the mix. An impressive showing late last season that continued into the playoffs makes Nate Eovaldi (6-7, 3.81 ERA, 101k, 1.13 WHIP, 111 INN) a standout player to be heavily pursued this offseason. Add the facts that he will only be 29 at the start of next season and hails from Houston, then Eovaldi sounds like a perfect fit.

If it’s a lefty they plan to sign to replace Kuechel, a veteran like Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21 ERA, 148K, 1.44 WHIP, 171 INN) can be had and most likely on a short-term deal. Cole was brought in last year hoping to revive his career, and it’s possible the Astros could look to do the same with a guy like Matt Harvey (7-9, 4.94 ERA, 131K, 1.30 WHIP, 15 INN). Not long ago, Harvey was considered the ace of a young and loaded Mets’ rotation.

Other names to consider are Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.45 ERA, 65K, 1.07 WHIP, 91.1 INN), Drew Pomeranz (2-6, 6.08, 6k, 1.77 WHIP, 74 INN), Garrett Richards (5-4, 3.66 ERA, 87 K, 1.28 WHIP, 76.1 INN) and Brett Anderson (4-5, 4.48 ERA, 47 K, 1.28 WHIP, 80.1 INN, and is also a lefty. .

“Winter is coming.”

As the long winter progresses, more names will become available when teams start shuffling pieces, dumping salaries and making trades. We have only just begun the “hot stove” portion of MLB, but no matter how Lunhow, Crane, and Hinch plug the holes in the roster, fans can be assured that winning is a priority and the Astros are doing it the right way.

*All stats are from MLB.com and are 2018 stats.

​Astros: Who should the team re-sign this offseason?

Let’s start with who are the guys on the team that will become free agents for the Astros.
Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Tony Sipp, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado.
Let’s look at the pitchers first. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, can test the free agency waters for the first time in his career. My guess is he’s gone. The Astros have Verlander and Cole as their 1A and 1B in the starting rotation. The Astros have already extended a qualifying offer to him. If he accepts, great. If not the team gets a pick in the draft. Next, Charlie Morton, or as I affectionately call him CFM. (I’ll let you decide what it stands for.)

If he wants to keep pitching, then I would really like to see him brought back. I think two years for $28 million would be a reasonable offer. I really can’t see the Astros bringing back Tony Sipp. They have Framber Valdez they can use as a lefty in the bullpen to fill the void that Sipp would leave.

Marwin Gonzalez, the super utility player. AJ Hinch, the Astros manager, has said in the past if he has a problem, Marwin is the answer. Gonzalez is going to command a lot on the open market. If I’m the Astros, I match the offer. He is too valuable to the club to let go.

Martin Maldonado is a fascinating player. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game, regardless of his struggles in the ALCS. When you have a catcher who can eliminate guys on the bases, it makes it difficult to let him walk away. I think the Astros should re-sign him if you let McCann walk

Evan Gattis is an interesting guy for me. The Astros can fill the DH hole with a better player. Currently, they have Tyler White who can fill the hole and did so for the second half of the season. Alternatively, maybe trade for Paul Goldschmidt. (One can dream, right?) The Diamondbacks are willing to listen to offers and Goldschmidt would be a great fit in his hometown of Houston. I would prefer Goldschmidt and bringing him back to the Lone Star State where he played college ball would be ideal.

In conclusion, the Astros should bring back Morton, Gonzalez, and Maldonado. Marwin will cost the most, but he’s equally as valuable to the team. If they’re not able to re-sign Morton, they have guys in the system ready to go. I’d look for Josh James to get the early nod and expect to see Forrest Whitley called up at some point next season.

Should the Astros Pursue Bryce Harper?

Would the Astros even consider chasing Bryce Harper?

The 2018 Major League Baseball offseason is shaping up to be one of the biggest free agent pools that we’ve had in quite some time. Unlike past years where there were noticeable shortages in certain free agent positions, this winter boasts big names at nearly every single position. Below is a list, by position of just a few notable names via CBS Sports.

  • Catchers: Martin Maldanado, Kurt Suzuki, Matt Wieters, Jonath Lucroy, Wilson Ramos,
  • First Basemen: Joe Mauer, Matt Adams, Mark Reynolds, Steve Pearce,
  • Second Basemen: Jed Lowrie, Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, D.J. LeMahieu
  • Third Basemen: Josh Donaldson, Eduardo Escobar, Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval
  • Shortstop: Manny Machado, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar, Jose Iglesias
  • Outfielders: Michael Brantley, Marwin Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, A.J. Pollock, Leonys Martin, Adam Jones, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis, Jason Heyward, Carlos Gonzalez
  • Designated hitters: Evan Gattis, Nelson Cruz
  • Starting Pitchers: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Clayton Kershaw, (who has an opt-out clause) J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, David Price, Lance Lynn, Nathan Eovaldi, Gio Gonzalez, and sixteen other starters who give you a positive WAR.
  • Relievers: Adam Ottavino, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Diekman, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Mark Melancon, (has an opt-out clause) Greg Holland, Zach Britton, Cody Allen

The list is massive, and it seems as if once the 2019 campaign comes along, the landscape of baseball will be different. Expect only a handful of these impending free agents to sign back with their previous teams. The talks will be fast, the negotiations will be frequent, and this will be one of the best times, as a free agent player, to get the contract that you’ve been dreaming of since you broke into the league.

The most intriguing player

There is one name though, on the list, that seems to stand out more than most, and whether that be due to his antics when he was first breaking the rookie barrier, his outright cocky nature, or the fact that one General Manager in 2017 said, “Four hundred million is light.” "It's going to be more than that. If you could sign him to a 15-year contract, you do it. I would say something in the range of $35 million a year, maybe closer to the high 30s. It could approach 40 million dollars a year." Bryce Harper is certainly going to be a hot commodity this offseason, but is he worth the trouble, and the finances, to try and persuade to come to Houston?

The Pros

Bryce Harper is dynamic whether on or off the field. Only really rivaling Mike Trout in most known names in baseball, Harper is a spark plug. Coming into the league at only nineteen years old, Bryce Harper has made a career for himself, and he’s still only twenty-six years old, barely into his prime. In seven seasons with the Nationals, he has already compiled a nice list of achievements.

He’s attended six All-Star games, won rookie of the year, collected a silver slugger, and won the Most Valuable Player award in 2015. He’s hit over thirty home runs, twice, and nearly hit thirty once again in 2017, only missing the mark by one. He’s hit 184 home runs total, 183 doubles, and is a career .279 hitter. With a career 27.8 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, there’s no doubt that Harper is a game changer on the baseball field.

The Cons

The contract and the injuries. If you talk about potentially signing Bryce Harper, there are two main issues that you must have in the back of your mind. How much am I going to be paying him? Will he be able actually to stay on the field? He’s played seven years in Washington, and four out seven years, he’s played 139 games or less. He’s dealt with more than four or five injuries, two being to his knees.

If you’re going to be paying a player potentially, you need to know that he’s going to be able to be healthy and contribute, and according to Greg Kirkland of Pinstripe Alley, “Take Bryce Harper for example. The young 26-year old superstar outfielder is apparently looking to start the signing discussion at ten years, $350 million.” That’s $35 million a season, roughly. When you look at that amount of money, you have to ask yourself, if Harper can’t stay on the field, does his production, and his power, and his ability to hit the ball, outweigh the risk he might not even be in every game down the stretch.

Should the Astros go for it?

It’s not an easy decision, and Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane are undoubtedly going to make a lot of tough choices come the winter meetings and into next season. Do you bring Dallas Keuchel back? Do you bring Marwin Gonzalez back? Do you bring Charlie Morton back? Do you sign one of the biggest young stars in the game to such a lucrative contract?

The decision will ultimately come down to, what happens with Marwin Gonzalez. If they can’t re-sign Gonzalez, it’s going to be very intriguing not only because he played much outfield, but he played many positions everywhere, and he produced everywhere. If you want a sure-fire productive player to replace Gonzalez, there are no shortages.

However, as stated, Harper is only twenty-six years old, and still very early in his prime, meaning, what we’ve seen so far out of him might just be the beginning. What can happen if he’s in a lineup surrounded by a healthy and thriving Carlos Correa? If Bregman, Altuve, Springer, all get on before him. It’s a short porch in left, and Harper can make many fireworks go off using it to his advantage. Do you give him that much money, with Bregman, Altuve, Springer, and Correa waiting to be paid?

There is no right answer to give, but this can be said in place of one. Winning team’s windows are often limited. The Astros have a deep system that can last for the next four or five years, and that’s their advantage. It’s going to be a fun offseason, and I trust Crane and Luhnow to make the right decisions, no matter what happens.

**Stats and quotes courtesy of CBSSports, MLB.COM, Baseball-Reference, Pinstripealley**

​Is Marwin Gonzalez​ the Most Important Astros Player to be Re-signed?

Heading into the 2018 offseason, the Houston Astros have some very important decisions to make.

With it being a vast market in between seasons, meaning this is one of the steepest pools of free agents that we’ve ever seen hit the open market. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for other teams in the league to add depth and talent to their rosters. Many players are going to find new homes, and the Astros hometown 25 isn’t going to be immune to losing favorite faces that they’ve grown accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Let’s take a look at just who will be seeking a new contract in the coming months.

Notable Astros that are now without a home are Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp, Martin Maldonado, and Marwin Gonzalez. They will all be free agents going into the winter. These are some very crucial names that play important roles for the Astros.

Starting pitchers

Keuchel is the number three starter in the rotation behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. He’s spent seven years in Houston, three or four as the Ace of the staff, compiling a 3.74 era, a Cy Young Award, and two all-star appearances. However, there have been talks that Keuchel has never been quite the same after his Cy Young winning season in 2015. No longer a spring chicken, you could argue that he’s still got a year or two left in his prime.

He’s not a real hard thrower, and he relies heavily on getting weak contact and ground balls, meaning he might last a few years longer than most hard-throwing pitchers. He’s an effective starter when he’s on and could easily be an ace on any staff, but he also does have an injury history and will command a hefty sum. Do you re-sign Keuchel? You will have to potentially pay other budding stars such as Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. The Astros have options at AAA in Forrest Whitley, but he’s not a lefty. Effective lefties are hard to come by.

Charlie Morton is a player that the entire Astros fan base would love to see come back for a season or two more. Morton debated retirement at the end of this season, but has spoken up and stated, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, that, “I’d love to keep playing,” “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again.

Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.” He’s become a fan favorite. Morton won two game sevens in the Astros first World Series championship run. He won’t soon be forgotten, and the way he’s pitched the past two seasons, why should he be? He’d only be looking for a one- or two-year deal, it just depends once again on the price tag he commands. There’s no doubt other teams will be speaking to him as well.

Key but minor players.

Gattis, Maldonado, and Sipp, frankly, can all be grouped in the same circle. All have had productive moments as a member of the Astros, but options are waiting patiently behind them, or options that are fairly easy to attain

El Oso Blanco has a love of a fan base like few players do due to his backstory and what he’s personally overcome to get where he is. Though throughout his career he’s either hot as burning lava or as cold as ice, he’s hit at least twenty home runs in every one of his major league seasons except one. He’s a career .250 hitter. Apart from your love of the lumberjack, is there really a reason to bring him back, as much as that hurts to say? There are other options at DH, and that’s mainly what he is nowadays.

Maldonado is a special case because he’s a gold glove defender and is one of the best at catching base-stealers in both the National and American league. His bat also seemed to awaken during his second half go around with Astros. The only question you have with Maldonado is can his bat stay the same next season or is it worth pursuing a proven upgrade offensively such as J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, or Jonathan Lucroy.

Sipp has had a topsy-turvy stint as an Astro, and even he’ll admit to it. He’s been with the team since 2014 and only had two genuinely productive seasons, both being in contract years. “I know what it looks like and it still looks like,” Sipp said. “Looks like I just got my money and stopped worrying about baseball,” per Chandler Rome. Sipp knows the opinions, he’s heard them, and while it looks like he truly has turned it around in 2018, he still is turning thirty-six next season, and the Astros have lefty options ready to go in Cionel Perez and Reymin Guduan.

But is anyone as crucial as Marwin?

All the players above are loved. Keuchel took to twitter and said, “I love you Houston.” We love you too. We truly do. However, one player took to Instagram to say roughly the same thing, but with more depth and ended the post with, “Forever #Houstonstrong.” What followed were thoughts of, “What will this Houston team do without certain key players from the past six or seven seasons,” and it stretched into, “Who can this team not afford to lose,” and unanimously the decision kept landing on Gonzalez, the man of many positions.

Who else can play nearly every spot on the field at gold glove caliber levels? Who else can swing the bat from both sides of the plate and have the power and contact ability that he does from each side? How many games would have been different in the past seven seasons had Gonzalez not been able to take over defensively? How many games would have turned out differently had Gonzalez not stepped up to the plate and delivered?

The Astros might not have won a World Series in 2017 if not for his blast off Kenley Jansen. The Astros might not have even advanced to the World Series if not for his cannon of a throw home to get Greg Bird at the plate in the American League Championship series. Time and time again, Gonzalez, purely with his versatility at every position, and his versatility at the plate, have delivered for the Astros.

He will get paid, this I’m sure of.

In 2015, Ben Zobrist received a four year, fifty-six-million-dollar contract from the cubs, and Gonzalez is even better than Zobrist. How much he will receive is unknown but expect it to be a hefty contract. Should the Astros pursue such a contract for a player that doesn’t have a single position that he calls his own? Yes, they should. He’s going into his age thirty season, he’s still in his prime, and the Houston Astros should do everything in their power to re-sign such a dynamic talent. If Gonzalez isn’t back in a Houston Uniform come Opening Day next season, there will be quite a large hole to fill not only defensively, and at the plate, but also in the clubhouse and in the hearts of every single fan packing Minute Maid Park.

**Stats, quotes and sources courtesy of Sportrac, Baseball-Reference, MLB Trade Rumors, and the Houston Chronicle.**

Vegas has the Astros tied as the favorites to land Kershaw if he opts out and leaves

Should Clayton Kershaw leave the Dodgers, there is a chance he could join the Astros.

The Red Sox have won the World Series. Congrats to Alex Cora, I’m sure he’s one of the few first-year managers to win the World Series. That team played better than the Dodgers and unfortunately the Astros in the ALCS. It was long expected that whoever won the AL crown would be the likely winners of the World Series. Now that the season has finally drawn to a close, it’s time to start talking about the Astros options for the starting rotation in 2019. 

We know the Astros will be losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton potentially to free agency. Also, it is rumored that Lance McCullers could need offseason surgery. Nothing has been named officially, but it could be Tommy John surgery. The were some reports out that McCullers pitched in the playoffs with a torn UCL. Can you imagine having that pain in your elbow and throwing a power curve that Martin Maldonado misses, it had to be frustrating. It could also explain why he struggled in his last appearance. 

Filling in the holes.

With three potential holes in the rotation, we spent almost the entire episode of Talking Stros last night discussing the options for the Astros. While there are several in-house options, like Collin McHugh, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Forrest Whitely, they could be looking for some options. They would want to get a number three to fit behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As we discussed, there are a few free agent names that could be intriguing.

Keuchel and Patrick Corbin could be the top free agent starting pitching options going into the offseason. That is, unless a certain Dodgers ace decides to opt out of his deal. Clayton Kershaw still has two years remaining under his big extension he signed with the Dodgers back in 2014. He signed a then-record seven-year deal worth $215 million. That leaves him with two years of player options remaining for $34.6 and $35.6 million respectively for 2019 and 2020. Why would he want to opt out of that deal worth $34 million plus?

At the conclusion of that deal, Kershaw would be 32-years-old. 

He missed a significant amount of time in 2018 due to an injury. This was the third consecutive season where Kershaw could not get close to 200 innings pitched. During that time, his high innings pitched was in 2017 with 175 innings pitched. He still won 18 games in 2018 but took a step back only pitching in 26 games. The biggest red flag with Kershaw in 2018 was only 155 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings pitched. His 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched was his lowest since his 8.4 back in his rookie year in 2008. Stats from Baseball-Reference.

So, an aging pitcher who has trouble staying healthy and his strikeout rates are decreasing, why would he opt out of the guaranteed money? It makes no sense unless he is looking for a longer deal beyond the current deal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility; we saw that with Zack Greinke, who opted out from the Dodgers and ended up with the Diamondbacks. Kershaw could probably see his value take a nose dive if he can’t stay healthy in 2019 and 2020.

The odds are...

After the game last night, he said it will be an eventful three days before he can opt out of the deal. He said that he would be open to having some conversations with the Dodgers, but who knows where this goes from here. Kershaw could opt out an become a free agent, shooting him to the top of the free agent class. According to OddShark, Bravado has the Astros tied for most likely if he leaves the Dodgers. 

The Astros are tied at +375 with the Texas Rangers. The Dodgers are of course the favorite to re-sign Kershaw if he opts out at -150. You could understand why the Astros, a chance to possibly win a championship. You would get to pitch with Verlander and Cole. However, you can’t help to notice the Texas ties for Kershaw, which could explain why the Rangers are the co-favorites. Texas is a big state, but if it puts him closer to home.

Would the Astros sign Kershaw for what it would take would be a better bet? When is the last time they gave a starting pitcher a long-term deal? He would be an upgrade over Keuchel as the lefty in the bullpen. The next most likely are the Cubs and the Giants at +800. This would be a surprise for the Astros, but would be a bold move to make one of the best rotations in history. 

Listen to Talking Stros below where we look at all the options for the rotation.

Rockets: The Good, the Bad, and the Fight?

The Rockets are 1-2.

I repeat, the Rockets are 1-2 and Twitter is losing its collective mind, hoping this isn’t 2015-2016 all over again. Let me talk you off the small ledge that you are standing on before you write this season off and start looking at next year’s free agent class.

The Rockets have played three very good teams to start the season, have not had a backup center, and the defense has lacked communication. These are problems that can be easily fixed and, with time, will be worked out.

But to be fair to those fans who believe this year may be like the 2015-2016 season, the elements for a disaster are there. The 2015-2016 team did not have the offensive talent that this team has, but when bringing six new players in, new roles have to form; some newcomers may not agree or accept the roles required by the team.

Carmelo obviously can still play in this league, but he is now a bench player in the eyes of Rockets. Things may change over time if Ennis cannot perform. But for the time being, and with it so early in the season, a starting lineup change will not come until it is evident to the coaching staff that Ennis can’t do his job as a starter.

By now you have probably all seen the video of CP3 and Rondo getting into their fight, which ended in a two-game suspension of CP3. Although the Rockets did beat the Lakers behind the efforts of James Harden, MCW’s play has been subpar and there are questions regarding how he will integrate himself with this offense. But like the starting lineup, MCW will need time to adapt, and if he can’t, the coaching staff won’t be able to play him.

With reports of Jimmy Butler still being in the Rockets sights, a lot of early season results may push Daryl Morey towards or away from trading for the 5-time All-Star. However, with or without Jimmy Butler, this team will need to adapt very quickly to this season. It isn’t the Western Conference of last year. The Rockets can be beaten by a Western Conference team on any given night and they will need to bring the same intensity they showed against the Lakers to be able to win on a nightly basis.

It’s just three games. I know these losses can make people remember 2015-2016 and panic immediately, but this team has two Hall of Fame point guards, a Hall of Fame forward, and a Hall of Fame head coach. If this team is 20-20 after 40 games, I will then be worried at a level 5 on a scale from 1-10. But until then, in the words of the great Aaron Rodgers:

R-E-L-A-X

The Astros will likely offer Dallas Keuchel a qualifying offer

It is unlikely though that Dallas Keuchel will accept the qualifying offer from the Astros.

The Houston Astros are watching the World Series from home this year. After winning the World Series last year, falling short of that goal was disappointing. They look to return to the World Series again in 2019, but there could be some fresh faces next year. As soon as the final out of this year's World Series is recorded, players will file for free agency. The Astros will be stricken by the departures.

We will talk about many of the options for the Astros as the offseason progresses. One of the players the Astros are not likely to retain is Dallas Keuchel. He may be willing to sign with the Astros, but this is his best chance to maximize his value long term. In other words, he wants to test the free agent market. 

With the number of young teams looking for a top of the rotation pitched, he will get more value elsewhere. With that in mind, the Astros would like something in return for their former Cy Young Award winner. Unlike the teams who were tanking, the Astros did not have an opportunity to trade him. This is why the MLB has the qualifying offer system in place. 

The qualifying offer has become somewhat of a stigma for players seeking free agent deals. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle with finding a new home. While they may be worth signing, teams don’t want to give up the pick in compensation. 

For a player like Bryce Harper, the pick is irrelevant, because you are getting potentially one of the best hitters in the game. For people like Keuchel coming off an healthy, so-so year, it could limit the teams trying for him. On the other side, it could prevent Charlie Morton from signing with another team.

The Astros are almost guaranteed to offer Keuchel a qualifying offer. 

According to Joel Sherman, the qualifying offer is $17.9 million. If they do extend the offer to Keuchel, two things can happen. 

  1. He accepts the 1-year deal for $17.9 million and will return to the Astros for 2019. (They could still work on an extension)
  2. Should he reject the offer, he will be able to sign with any other team for as much/long as he can. That team would have to give up a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Astros.

From the Astros point of view, either way is a win-win. He made $13.2 million last year via arbitration, via Sportrac, and his market value was going up. Sportrac has his average market value at around $20 million, so it would be below market value. If he declines, they get a first round compensation pick, which you know Jeff Luhnow loves those picks. 

It would not be wise for Keuchel to accept that offer. 

He is coming off his first healthy season since 2015 and pitched 200+ innings, which is rare in this “opener” craved MLB. Keuchel is also 30 years old, meaning this could be his last chance to get that long-term deal. If you take away his stats in the first inning, Keuchel did pitch well in 2018. While is not his 2015 form, his 13-12 record with a 3.76 ERA still qualifies him as a two or three in the rotation. Stats via Baseball-Reference.

When Keuchel tweeted out last week, “I love you Houston,” that could have been his way of saying goodbye. We saw something similar with Marwin Gonzalez this week. As much as Keuchel may want to stay, he knows how the Astros organization works. They assign a value to a player based on the analytics and offer that contract. 

The Astros have yet to lock up a pitcher long-term as well under current management. Hopefully the change their philosophies with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. There are many holes in the roster, but the core players remain intact. Good luck to Keuchel, I would love to have him back, but would like to have money to lock up others later. 

Talking Stros 2018-10-21 - Astros postseason reflection

The boys at Talking Stros discuss the end of the postseason dreams for the Astros who will retool and gear up for 2019.

8:00 - What went wrong during the Boston series?

8:15 – Injuries update Altuve, Correa, McCullers

8:30 – Looking back at the 2018 season

8:45 – Jeremy Booth (Views from the former scout and front office executive)

9:00 – What’s next for 2019? (Free agents, trades, needs for the team)

9:15 - The outfield picture for next year

9:30 – Kyle Kelly (free agency)

9:45 – Closing thoughts

Astros: Could Lance McCullers miss the 2019 season?

Astros fans will be waiting for the news of what is wrong with Lance McCullers. 

The bitter taste of defeat is still in the Astros mouths as they were eliminated from the playoffs. The Red Sox await their opponent in the World Series as the NLCS goes to Game 7. All we know is that the Astros fell short of back to back World Series. It was still a great season with 103 wins and has fans already waiting for spring training to begin. There are important decisions to make between now and then.

The free agents’ conundrum will be discussed often this offseason as who to retain or add to the roster? Will Jose Altuve need to have knee surgery to fix whatever is wrong with it? Can Carlos Correa fully recover from the back pain that plagued him in 2018? Also, what is really going on with Lance McCullers’ elbow?

According to Brian McTaggart, McCullers would likely need offseason surgery. We don’t know exactly what surgery yet, all we got is speculation and reports.

For what it’s worth, Joe Demayo reportedthat McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL and would have surgery after the season. This is a blow to the 2019 Astros team if true because he would likely miss the entire 2019 season. There are several reasons to not believe Demayo because he is not verified or a big-time name. I’m not going to jump to conclusions based on that one Tweet.

But there is more.

According to Ted Berg, Alex Bregman let something slip out after Game 5.

"We were banged up a bit. Lance McCullers was pitching with -- I don’t know if I’m supposed to say what he’s pitching with, but the guy has some heart."

We have all suspected that McCullers was hurt worse than we thought. When he hit the DL on August 4th, it was due to a strained forearm from swinging the bat. By the way, that is another reason why pitchers should not hit on a regular basis. Getting back on track, McCullers was out most of August and September with the injury. He did return as a reliever before the season ended and pitched five innings in the playoffs.

Then, McCullers’ wife (Kara) posted on Instagram with the hashtag #18monthcountdown. After the game on Thursday, via Chandler Rome, McCullers did say that he has “definitely been throwing through some stuff." McCullers and the training staff will do their due diligence to make sure that he can get healthy. 

If it does lead to Tommy John surgery, this will lead to an opening in the rotation for 2019. Collin McHugh will be raising his hands saying put me in coach. If he was pitching in the playoffs with a UCL tear, much respect. But, why did the Astros risk pitching him if they knew what was going on? We will now wait for the news. It won’t be the same without McCullers.

Too Hot To Handle 2018-10-19, Episode 34: Astros Eliminated

The Holy Quadrumvirate of nonsense and audible debauchery. And sports. The New York Times hails Too Hot to Handle, Too Cold to Hold as "For the last time, we don't write reviews for amateur and sophomoric podcasts. Please stop calling." Listen live via the TuneIn App or or Live Radio.

Jacob Payne, Trey Campbell, and Keith Quigley

Topics:

04:09 - Astros Eliminated

14:39 - Fan Interference

15:49 - AJ Hinch Outmanaged

21:15 - Barrel Fire Shot Take (Raiders Fire Sale, Rockets Won't Win 50, Deshaun Watson Will Suffer Season-Ending Injury in Jacksonville)

38:00 - Texans/Jags Preview

52:45 - Does Jesus Have Interns?

55:30 - More Upsetting (Threatening Fans Who Interfere or Telling Kids to Shut Up at Sporting Events/ALCS Cheating Scandals)

2018 Astros MiLB Recap and Awards

The best of the best in the Astros farm system.

Over the last few years, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has orchestrated many trades that have contributed to the big club’s success. The downside, of course, is that by making the big club the formidable force that it is, the overall organizational depth has taken a hit. Or, has it?

Consider this list of current big leaguers that were once part of the Astros future that are now finding success with other organizations:

Mike Foltyniewicz: Ace of the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves.

Vince Velasquez: Integral part of the Phillies pitching staff and part of their promising future.

Ramon Laureano: Roaming the outfield providing highlight reel defense and a solid bat for the surprising Oakland A’s.

Josh Hader: The most dominant left-handed reliever in baseball this year for the playoff-bound Brewers.

Teoscar Hernandez: Power-hitting outfielder for the Blue Jays and a part of that team’s promising future.

Colin Moran: Fourth in NL rookies in RBI for the Pirates.

Joe Musgrove: Middle of the rotation bulldog having success with the Pirates this year after winning World Series ring last year.

Domingo Santana: A 30-homer, high OBP outfielder for the Brewers in 2017, though he had a regression and lack of playing time in 2018.

There are others as well, such as Delino DeShields, Robbie Grossman, Daniel Mengden, Michael Feliz, and David Paulino, to name a few, that have left the Astros organization via trade that are finding success at the big league level.

However, it’s not just current big leaguers that have left the organization via trade. Several top overall prospects in baseball are still waiting to bust through with their new organizations. Most notably: Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Jacob Nottingham, Pat Sandoval, Peter Solomon, Adrian Houser, Jorge Alcala, Hector Perez, and Gilberto Celestino. All these players were once considered among the top prospects in the Astros system.

With such an exodus of talent from the organization in such a short period, one could safely assume that the Astros minor league system is in dire need of replenishing. One would also be emphatically wrong.

In 2018, the Astros top five affiliates each made the playoffs. They had pitching staffs that led their respective leagues in strikeouts and set a MiLB record for strikeouts in a season. Also, two teams won their league championships and had an overall record of 367-262 to lead all of baseball in organizational winning percentage. The organization still ranks in the top-10 according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America and features two of the top eight overall prospects in the game in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.

So, with this as a backdrop, let’s take a closer look at what was a banner season for the Astros MiLB affiliates, some of the notable performers, and dish out some MVP awards.

Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)

Record: 82-57

Hitters:

J.D. Davis won the Triple-A batting title after hitting .342. A.J. Reed was named the team MVP by the Astros brass and led all of Triple-A with 108 RBI and finished second with 28 home runs. Myles Straw wasn’t promoted to Triple-A until mid-season but still managed to finish second with 35 stolen bases. Garrett Stubbs slashed an impressive .310/.382/.455 and displayed excellent defense and pitch framing.
Yordan Alvarez continued his rise up prospect rankings and earned a promotion to Fresno after demolishing Double-A pitching. Alvarez finished the season with a .293 average, 20 home runs, and 74 RBI in just 88 games across two levels.

Pitchers:
Josh James split the season between Fresno and Corpus Christi and perhaps raised his profile more than any prospect in recent memory. James finished the season with a 3.23 ERA and a ridiculous 171 strikeouts in just 113 innings.

Cy Sneed finished with ten wins and a very respectable 3.83 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 127 innings pitched.

Dean Deetz returned from suspension and injury and absolutely destroyed hitters, finishing with a 0.79 ERA and 50 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. Rogelio Armenteros battled some command issues this season but still managed an 8-1 record with a 3.74 ERA and 134 K in 118 innings of work.

MVP:

Kyle Tucker, and it isn’t even close. Tucker started the season as the second youngest everyday player in the league and struggled a bit out of the gate. On June 1, nearly two months into the season, Tucker was hitting a respectable but pedestrian .273 with an OPS barely over .800.

Tucker finished the season with these gaudy numbers: .332 AVG / .400 OBP / .590 SLG / .990 OPS / 86 R / 93 RBI / 27 DBL / 3 TRP / 24 HR / 20 SB. At 21 years old, Tucker still has some physical development to do, but the kid is a star in the making.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)

Record: 82-56

Hitters:

Randy Cesar had a Texas League record 42-Game hitting streak and finished the season with a slash line of .296/.348/.428/.776. Josh Rojas played most of his season with the Hooks and finished with an excellent 53:76/BB:K and stole 38 bases across two levels.

Ronnie Dawson played the final month with the Hooks and showed off his power-speed combo, slashing .289/.341/.518/.859 and combined to steal 35 bases and hit 16 home runs across two levels.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bielak made 11 appearances with the Hooks and posted a 2.35 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and struck out 57 in 61.1 innings. Across two levels, Bielak posted a 2.23 ERA. Corbin Martin gave up six earned runs while recording just one out in his first start with the Hooks. After that, Martin was brilliant, finishing with an ERA of 2.97 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 103 innings.

MVP:

Ryan Hartman became just the fourth pitcher in Texas League history to accomplish the pitching “Triple Crown,” finishing tied for first with wins (11), first in ERA (2.69), and first in strikeouts (143).

Buies Creek Astros (Advanced-A)

Record: 80-57 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Corey Julks, a University of Houston product, put together an outstanding all-around season. Julks played his last 61 games with the Astros and hit .282, with 26 extra-base hits, 16 stolen bases, and scored 39 runs. Osvaldo Duarte played 132 games with the Astros and put together his best professional season, hitting .276 with 68 runs scored 52 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bailey pitched 20 of his 25 games in 2018 with the Astros and posted 2.49 ERA and struck out 113 in 97.2 innings pitched. Bailey ended his season with the Hooks, where he continued his success. Tyler Ivey had a 2.69 ERA in 70.1 innings while striking out 82.

MVP:

J.J. Matijevic doesn’t leap out at you with gaudy numbers but the second-year pro produces at an elite level, especially for the Carolina League. Matijevic hit only .266 but had an OPS of .849 and homered 19 times. His season totals across two levels: .277 AVG / .350 OBP / .538 SLG / .887 OPS / 66 R / 62 RBI / 26 DBL / 4 TRP / 22 HR / 13 SB.

Quad Cities River Bandits (A)

Record: 81-59

Hitters:

Jacob Meyers led the team in doubles and slashed an impressive .302/.383/.476/.859 in 61 games. Bryan De La Cruz hit .283 with a .728 OPS. 2018 first round pick, Seth Beer, torched the league for a .348 average and a .934 OPS. Colton Shaver led the team in home runs (15) and RBI (50).

Pitchers:

Chad Donato went 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Cristian Javier struck out 80 in just 49.1 innings and had a 1.82 ERA before being promoted. Before they were traded, Peter Solomon and Pat Sandoval combined to go 15-2 with 159 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Bryan Abreu went 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA and struck out 68 in just 38.1 innings.

MVP:

The River Bandits pitching staff. In 1,226 innings, the staff had a MiLB season record 1,514 strikeouts, led the league in ERA (2.98), shutouts (17), saves (50), fewest hits allowed (976) and fewest home runs allowed (65). What’s perhaps even more amazing is that this staff wasn’t just 12-15 dominant pitchers overmatching the opposition. Instead, an incredible 32 different pitchers struck out batter for the River Bandits, 16 of which struck out at least 50. Still not impressed? Well, 19 different pitchers had at least one save and 18 had an ERA of 3.00 or less. A truly spectacular season by this staff and their coaches.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-Short Season)

Record: 42-33 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Alex McKenna played in just 32 games but slashed .328/.423/.534 with five home runs and 21 RBI. Carlos Machado led the team in hits with 59 while batting .304 in 194 at-bats. Before being traded, Gilberto Celestino was slashing .323/.387/.480 in 34 games.

Pitchers:

Nivaldo Rodriguez led the team with 55.2 innings and struck out 50 while posting a 2.91 ERA. Mark Moclair worked through command and control issues but managed to strike out 48 batters in 27.1 innings. Austin Hansen posted a 1.76 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and struck out 45 in 30.2 innings of work.

MVP:

Enmanuel Valdez hit just .244 but led the team in doubles (16), runs (40), total bases (100), home runs (8), and extra-base hits (25). He was second in hits with 58 and stole 11 bases.

Statistics retrieved from:

MiLB.com

Baseball-reference.com

Thebaseballcube.com